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UC-Davis Study Identifies Risky Food Safety Practices in Home Kitchens

A  new consumer research study done by the University of California-Davis reveals that many safe food preparation practices are often overlooked in home kitchens, even among consumers who consider themselves to be well-informed on food safety.

The research, funded by contributions from Foster Farms, will be published in Food Protection Trends in September.

Americans often undercook chicken (40 percent) and rarely wash their hands (65 percent), the study found, highlighting the need for increased consumer food safety education.

“The most surprising aspect of these findings to me was the prevalence of undercooking,” said Dr. 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.”

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 and no 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.

Forty percent of participants undercooked their chicken, regardless of the preparation method, and only 29 percent knew the correct U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommended temperature of 165 degrees F.

Researchers observed that cooking thermometers were not widely used, with only 48 percent of participants owning one, and 69 percent of those reported 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.

Based on the study’s findings, a coalition of agriculture and food safety partners, including the California Department of Food and Agriculture, UC-Davis, the California Poultry Federation, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Northwest Chicken Council, Partnership for Food Safety Education and Foster Farms, are launching an educational campaign to increase consumer knowledge about safe food preparation practices in the home.

“We all have an important role in ensuring food safety and preventing foodborne illness,” said Shelley Feist, executive director of the nonprofit Partnership for Food Safety Education. “Dr. Bruhn’s research shows that some home food safety practices need to be reinforced with consumers. Proper hand-washing and the consistent use of thermometers are basic preventive actions that need to be part of all home food handling and preparation.”

© Food Safety News
  • Elayne M

    How convenient to fund a study that will help your PR the next time your chicken makes someone sick. “Well, it’s been proven that people’s home kitchen’s aren’t safe. It’s not our fault”.

    • Food Microbiologist

      The study underlines that these strains of Salmonella are ordinarily injurious to public health in the hands of ordinary consumers and thus, should not enter commerce. For funzies, look up 9 CFR 311 and 9 CFR 381K (381.79-381.93) for lists of carcass defects that are prevented from entering commerce and consumer exposure. Ask yourself, “Are these strains of virulent Salmonella as dangerous or more injurious than any of those deficts?” CDC, FSIS, and FDA have the tools and technology to identify and trace back the source of those virulent strains.

  • Rella

    “Most risks can be avoided by practicing thorough hand-washing, never rinsing raw chicken in the sink” Need a suggestion as to how to rinse a raw chicken outside of a sink.

  • DocB

    You know, I would like to doubt the study because it was funded by Foster Farms but I can assure you it is true. All you have to do is watch cooking shows on any of the cable networks and listen to them joke about the “food police” getting on them. Frequently, when I discuss a food borne illness and ask what temperature the food was cooked to, I am told “it was cooked all the way”. If I ask what temperature someone keeps their fridge, I generally get a response like, “it’s cold enough”. As food professionals, we can try to teach but the general public has to want to learn.

  • Sue

    If you are not suppose to wash chicken “in the sink”, where do we wash it?

    • Jan

      You don’t wash it. Adequate cooking is going to destroy any microorganisms on/in the chicken. Washing it before cooking only distributes any microorganisms on the chicken across all of your counters, your sink, your appliances.

    • Jonathan

      You don’t. That’s the trick. Chicken doesn’t need “washing”. That is a false idea propagated by years of dangerous hand-me-down knowledge. Chicken needs cooking.

    • flame

      Buy a cheap mop bucket(with pour spout) then clean it. Add whole chicken or chicken parts; fill with enough water to cover and wash while wearing disposable gloves. Do this outside in case of spilling or splashing water. Dry chicken with paper towels and cook to the right temperature. Dispose of used water into storm drain or another suitable drain. Rinse bucket with bleach, peroxide or other disinfectant and water and dispose of in same way. Wrap used disposable gloves in plastic you get from shopping and dispose of in outside garbage bin. Just an idea I learned from people who feel they must wash their chicken. It’s your choice to wash or not wash. I don’t eat chicken.

    • carol

      My question exactly! I always rinse to get the biofilm and any debris off, then wash the sink using Comet and waiting the required 10 min for bacterial-cidal effect.

  • pawpaw

    Would this be funded by Foster Farms?
    A study asking: What effect does a prominent, front of package label have on consumer practices, with this or similar wording:
    “This poultry may be coated with FECAL PATHOGENS. Handle accordingly.”

  • JTAK Food Safety

    Agree on the sink, as most home kitchens don’t have a separate food prep sink installed. But I suppose it was easier to say don’t do it, rather than to clean and sanitize your sink afterwards. Sadly, the rest of the information is spot on. I have offered free home food safety classes through our local community schools program over the past year and haven’t had a single person attend.

  • Reynard

    Don’t buy industrial ag chicken to begin with. Buy local if you can. Oh, but wait, who funded this study? A company that wants to put the burden for food safety on the consumer instead of changing how their “product” is “produced” to avoid it in the first place. Sorry to see that they’ve gotten all those state ag agencies and UC Davis to drink their kool-aid.

    • grifty

      I don’t see why it matters who funded the study. Yes, FF has many problems. Yes, they’d love to point fingers.

      But at the end of the day, people getting sick from their product (regardless of the cause) is bad for business. You have have the same health issues with locally produced chicken. Food is potentially dangerous if mishandled.

      • Elayne M

        Oh, money matters. Who funds a study matters.

  • BluebirdofUnhappiness