A recent phone survey of 1,000 Americans not only found that some people are doing too little when it comes to food safety, but also that some are actually doing too much. 

NSF International, an independent public health and safety non-profit, says its survey reveals Americans are uncertain about some basic food handling and meal preparation practices. The goal of the survey was to better understand consumer behaviors and determine general knowledge of the best food safety practices.

post it magnet-REV.jpgThe survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, was conducted over four days in July among a nationally representative sample.  It found that 78 percent of the respondents knew how to safely defrost meat and poultry, but only 20 percent said they use a meat thermometer to ensure food is thoroughly cooked.

According to the NSF International press release, leftovers stored correctly can be saved for up to 4 days, but 40 percent of those surveyed indicated they don’t save leftovers at all or throw them out after one to two days.

Ninety percent told the interviewers they wash their hands after touching raw meat or poultry, but 20 percent admitted they don’t use soap and warm water.

Additional survey results found that only 31 percent knew it is OK to refreeze foods that were thawed in the refrigerator.  Sixty percent of those surveyed said they always rewash pre-packaged, pre-washed fruits and vegetables and did not know rewashing isn’t necessary.

As might be expected, the survey results found that food safety practices vary depending on on income, age, and education and sometimes are based more on habit than science.

“Many of the food safety practices we learn at home when we’re young are carried with us through life and passed to the next generation,” said Cheryl Luptowski, Home Safety Expert for NSF International, emphasizing the need for consumer education.

Luptowski and NSF International think changing food safety behavior through simple, everyday practices could make a substantial difference in reducing the incidence of foodborne illness.

Among the recommendations suggested by the group are proper handwashing:  lathering hands for at least 20 seconds before rinsing and singing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing.   The group also says to avoid foods such as party platters that have been at room temperature for more than two hours and to always use a food thermometer, rather than rely on just sight or taste, to ensure that meat and poultry are properly cooked.