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.”