Myths About Onion

Onions and the Flu

Q: Can Raw Onion Prevent the Flu?

A: There is no scientific evidence that a cut raw onion absorbs germs or rids the air of toxins/poisons.

A wives tale that dates back as far as the 1500’s claims that placing a cut raw onion in rooms throughout a residence could protect its occupants from getting the bubonic plague.

Long before germs were discovered, the dominate belief was contagious diseases were spread by miasma, or “noxious air.”

While false, this belief remained part of folk medicine through the 19th century claiming to ward off epidemics like smallpox, influenza, and other “infectious fevers.”

Leftover Onion and Cut Onion

Q: Are cut onions or leftover onions poisonous?

A: When handled properly, cut onions are not poisonous. After being cut, onions can be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to 7 days.

A widely circulated claim states uncooked, leftover onions are ‘poisonous’ because they’re ‘a huge magnet for bacteria,’ thus likely to spoilage.

This claim stems from a blog post that dates back to March 2008. While the original post was removed from the internet in 2009, part of that post continues to circulate the internet.

For more information about the false nature of this claim, please read the attached consumer letter from the National Onion Association.

Information has circulated online as email chain messages and across social media making
claims that cut onions can cure the flu, are magnets for bacteria, and claiming cut onions are
responsible for food poisoning. The claims come from multiple sources and are false.
The anecdote from the 1919 influenza epidemic claims cut onions placed around the house
will fight off the flu virus. While people insist this folk belief works, no scientific evidence exists
to back up the claims. Furthermore, cold and flu viruses are spread by contact, not by floating
in the air where the onion can supposedly attract or destroy them.
An article written in 2008, claims onions and potatoes are responsible for more food poisoning
than spoiled mayonnaise. Author Sarah McCann wrote the article under the pen name Zola
Gorgon. She wrote the article following a tour of Mullins Food Products facility. The article
was originally posted at McCann’s website
The claims made in the article about onions (and to a lesser extent, potatoes) are not
substantiated. In fact, when cut, onions release compounds that do not promote pathogen
growth. The Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia states, juice released from cut
onion is known to kill or inhibit the growth of several types of microorganisms, including some
of those capable of causing food poisoning in humans.
When handled properly, cut onions can be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container for
up to 7 days.

National Onion Association

Letter to Consumers About Cut Onion Claims

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