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Do Russians Know More Than Americans When it Comes to Food Safety?

Rapid-fire question: You have a raw, whole chicken or turkey. Do you wash it in the sink before cooking it, or do you stick it straight in the oven unwashed?

If you chose to wash it first — the wrong answer — you’re more likely to be an American than a Russian. And you’re even more likely to be from India or Colombia.

That’s a big assumption, but it’s based on data from a new survey that compared food safety practices and knowledge regarding raw poultry and shell eggs in 10 countries.

According to the survey, more than 40 percent of Americans in Missouri and Tennessee washed their raw chicken or turkey in the sink before cooking it. Washing poultry is a big food safety no-no because it splashes potential pathogens such as Salmonella and Campylobacter from the raw meat onto other surfaces — and all over your hands and arms.

Russians in Moscow, on the other hand, universally abstained from washing their raw poultry, while Indians and Colombians washed their poultry in even higher numbers than Americans.

This was one striking contrast out of many comparisons noted in a presentation Monday by Kansas State University nutrition professor Kadri Koppel, Ph.D., at the 2014 International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) conference in Indianapolis. And, to be clear, Koppel drew no assumptions from the data about which country’s citizens may or may not know more about food safety.

The survey provides a snapshot into cultural practices related to poultry and eggs around the world, and, by extension, the relative risks of contracting foodborne illness, although it did not aim to make any comprehensive statements. The survey included roughly 225 Americans, along with 100-200 refrigerator-owning citizens from another nine countries, also including Estonia, Italy, France, Argentina, South Korea and Thailand.

Numerous cultural considerations play into how people of various cultures handle their food. For example, while more than 80 percent of Russians wash their eggs, fewer than 5 percent of Americans do. Of course, Americans have come to expect that their store-bought eggs are already pre-washed and sterilized, which eliminates any need for egg-washing that might be a more serious consideration in Russia.

Some practices were more universal than others. For example, people almost always opted to wash their hands with soap and water after handling raw poultry, as opposed to just rinsing or wiping their hands. (Estonians and South Koreans, however, were about 50/50 on washing versus rinsing.)

More insight on poultry and egg handling practices in the U.S.

Another survey highlighted at the same symposium on consumer behavior toward raw poultry and eggs suggested that only about 31 percent of Americans know that they should not wash raw poultry.

That survey also found that roughly 90 percent of Americans wash their hands after handling raw poultry. The survey was answered by 1,500 American adults who were the primary grocery shoppers for their households, according to Sheryl Cates, senior research policy analyst at developmental research nonprofit RTI International.

When handling packages of raw poultry at the grocery store, 76 percent of respondents said they separate chicken parts from other items in the cart, while about 70 percent also keep packages of chicken parts separate from other food in grocery bags.

When refrigerating raw poultry, only 17 percent of respondents reported following guidelines that recommend storing it in sealed containers or wrapped in a bag on the bottom shelf of the fridge.

After preparing raw poultry on a cutting board, 94 percent of respondents said they washed the cutting board or used a different one. Ninety-eight percent reported using separate utensils or washing utensils after handling raw poultry.

Those same respondents appeared to take more risks when handling shell eggs.

While 86 percent of respondents said they open egg cartons at the store to check for cracks before making a purchase, only 48 percent reported washing their hands as recommended after handling eggs or cracking them open at home.

Only 47 percent of respondents fried eggs until the yolk was firm, as recommended for avoiding Salmonella contamination. During the past 12 months, four percent had eaten raw eggs, eight percent had eaten food made from raw eggs, and 25 percent had eaten raw cookie dough or batter containing raw eggs.

Overall, those statistics seemed to suggest that, at least when it comes to raw poultry and eggs, maybe we should consider acting a little more like Russians.

© Food Safety News
  • Keith De Witt

    Russians dont wash themselves either. Most don’t have running water.

  • Silvana

    I have been washing my meats for years now. I do that in the kitchen sink, avoiding contact with any other surface and when I´m preparing meals, I wash my hands with water and soap every time I handle vegetables, meats or fruits (I probably wash hands around 4 times). In all this time my family has never caught a foodborne illness at home. The times we have, it has been when eating outside. I consider not washing my meats a risk I´m not willing to take, especially when I know nothing about how it was handled or preserved. We can´t just expect that the cooking process of preparing will work by itself, especially if we are used to eat rare or medium cooked meats.

    • Destinee

      How can you be absolutely sure you received all instances of your food borne illnesses from “outside” food? Unless there is an outbreak it is virtually impossible to pinpoint foods without a lab confirmation of the exact morsel you ate. Salmonella can take up to 72 hours to incubate and make you ill. Just don’t blame the chicken processors when you make your children sick due to your poor household food safety practices.

  • MicroNerd

    The spray/aerosolization of washing your poultry can cause fine particles of water containing bacteria to spray onto sink, countertops, other food and utensils near the sink – usually in a spray radius of 3-4 feet. Are you capable of control aerosolized particles? Because if you can, that’s a super power I would like to have. Washing your hands only addresses some of the problems – unless you are bleaching out your sink, counters, utensils, etc. in a four foot radius after washing, then you are not safe enough.

    And Silvana, it specifically says poultry in the article. If you are cooking your poultry medium or rare, then good luck to you. If you are cooking your poultry per USDA at 165 F, then there is no need to wash and spread the bacteria around.

  • J T

    Gene, if the chicken is undercooked, it is the INSIDE of the chicken that will be undercooked. Washing the chicken would do nothing to remove bacteria from the INSIDE. Washing removes SOME of the bacteria from the OUTSIDE, but the outside is the part that is pretty much guaranteed to be fully cooked. There is NO benefit to washing chicken, but there are many risks.

  • lylad

    The question is wash or don’t wash a chicken???? Why isn’t the question “why are there adulterants in my food”?

  • Patricia P. Tursi

    I don’t eat factory produced chicken. I either raise my own …in the city…or I purchase organic from local farmers. If a chicken is raised correctly, it won’t have nasty bacteria Have you ever smelled a confined chicken operation? It is nasty. I don’t shop at grocery stores because of the unhealthy, genetically engineered, and destructive practices that big farm practices in raising our food. Buy local…buy organic

  • PG

    I say
    that it is extremely important to wash raw poultry and meats before cooking.
    Agreed that meats will contain pathogens in the core of the meat, rather than
    on the surface, but one can never be sure where pathogens grow. Aside from
    this fact, if the meats sold in supermarkets are pre-washed, they are done so
    using a small percentage of chemicals. Although these chemicals are used
    based upon recommended values by the federal agencies, If you are a regular consumer of meats,
    consuming them on such a regular basis could create health issues
    overtime. Secondly, there is
    possibility of cross-contamination to occur, if good manufacturing practices
    fail in processing plants. There could be traces of blood and fecal matter,
    and the immediate contact place with these would be the surface of the meats,
    rather than the core. Blood and fecal matter carry pathogens of their own,
    and can equally cause harm and deteriorate meat products. It is therefore
    highly important that you wash your meats, fruits and vegetables before
    consuming them unwashed. If you are concerned about contaminating non food
    contact surfaces such as your sinks and kitchen counters, you must be even
    more concerned about ingesting food that could possibly contain these harmful
    pathogens. Non-food contact surfaces can always be cleaned and sanitized
    after washing raw foods, but consuming raw foods while being knowledgeable of
    the fact is very well not recommended.