While most consumers are very aware of food safety issues, including Salmonella, and the risk of foodborne illness, many do not follow recommended food safety practices in preparing their own meals at home, according to new research from the University of California, Davis.
The study, which examined preparation of raw poultry, found that the most common risks stemmed from cross contamination and insufficient cooking, according to a university press release.
"The most surprising aspect of these findings to me was the prevalence of undercooking," said Christine Bruhn, director of the Center for Consumer research at UC Davis, who authored the study. "We are now in summer, the peak season for foodborne illness, and these results come at a time when more consumers can benefit from being aware of better food safety practices. Even tips usually considered basic, like washing hands with soap and water before and after handling raw poultry, and never rinsing raw poultry in the sink, still need to be emphasized for a safer experience," added Bruhn, a specialist in UC Cooperative Extension who studies consumer attitudes and behaviors toward food safety.
Most risks can be avoided by practicing thorough hand-washing, never rinsing raw chicken in the sink and using calibrated thermometers to determine that chicken is fully cooked. Researchers say these results will help narrow areas of focus and define important messages for food safety educators and advocates in their mission to promote safe food preparation.
The study analyzed video footage taken of 120 participants preparing a self-selected chicken dish and salad in their home kitchens. The participants were experienced in chicken preparation, with 85 percent serving chicken dishes in their home weekly, and 84 percent reporting being knowledgeable about food safety; 48 percent indicated they had received formal food safety training.
Cross contamination was of specific concern to researchers:
- Most participants, 65 percent, did not wash their hands before starting meal preparation and 38 percent did not wash their hands after touching raw chicken.
- Only 10 percent of participants washed their hands for the recommended duration of 20 seconds and about one-third of the washing occasions used water only, without soap.
- Nearly 50 percent of participants were observed washing their chicken in the sink prior to preparation, a practice that is not recommended as it leads to spreading bacteria over multiple surfaces in the kitchen.
Insufficient cooking was also observed:
- Forty percent of participants undercooked their chicken, regardless of preparation method and only 29 percent knew the correct USDA recommended temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Researchers observed that cooking thermometers were not widely used, with only 48 percent of participants owning one, and 69 percent of those reporting that they seldom use it to check if chicken is completely cooked. Most participants determined "fully cooked" based on appearance, an unreliable method according to the USDA. No participants reported calibrating their thermometers to ensure accuracy.
"This study is a clear reminder that we all need to be working together to remind consumers about proper handling and cooking of raw chicken in a manner that prevent undercooking and prevents the possibility of bacteria spreading to other foods and food contact surfaces in the kitchen," said National Chicken Council spokesman Tom Super.
"It is always important to consistently follow safe food handling and cooking practices because all raw agricultural products – whether its produce, fruit, meat or poultry – could contain naturally occurring bacteria that might make someone sick. But, there are steps people can take in the home to significantly reduce their risk."
The study's complete findings will be published in the September/October issue of Food ProtectionTrends.