Source: USDA
Source: USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that new research shows consumers are failing to properly clean their hands when it comes to washing them before meals. To be exact, 97 percent are failing at basic handwashing.

The study showed that rushed and improper handwashing promotes the chance of cross-contamination through food, kitchen utensils and surfaces such as refrigerator handles and countertops.

Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy under secretary for food safety at USDA, is the mother of three young children and used her personal perspective to describe the importance of the research report. She is “very familiar with the mad dash families go through to put dinner on the table.”

“You can’t see, smell or feel bacteria. By simply washing your hands properly, you can protect your family and prevent that bacteria from contaminating your food and key areas in your kitchen.”

The study, which evaluated consumer food handling behaviors in a test kitchen, was conducted by the USDA, RTI International, and North Carolina State University. Preliminary results of the observational research showed some concerning results in the following categories.


  • Consumers incorrectly washed their hands 97 percent of the time;
  • Most consumers failed to wash their hands for the necessary 20 seconds; and
  • Numerous participants did not dry their hands with a clean towel.

Thermometer use 

  • Only 34 percent of participants used a food thermometer to check that their burgers were cooked properly; and
  • Of those who did use the food thermometer, about half still did not cook the burgers to the safe minimum internal temperature to kill pathogens.

Cross contamination 

  • Participants were observed spreading bacteria from raw poultry onto surfaces and other food in the test kitchen;
  • 48 percent of the time they contaminated spice containers used while preparing burgers;
  • 11 percent of the time they spread bacteria to refrigerator handles; and
  • 5 percent of the time they were tainting salads due to cross-contamination.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention an estimated 48 million Americans are sickened with foodborne illnesses each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. “Children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk,” the CDC warns.

With the arrival of summer and the popularity of outdoor grilling season the USDA is reminding consumers to use a food thermometer and cook meat and poultry products to their recommended safe internal temperatures. Meat and poultry products are considered ‘done’ when they reach the following minimum internal temperatures:

  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145 degrees F;
  • Ground meats (including burgers and sausages): 160 degrees F; and
  • Poultry (whole or ground): 165 degrees F.

When checking for internal temperatures, while cooking meat and poultry patties, insert the thermometer through the side of the patty until the probe reaches the center of the patty.

“Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling raw meat, poultry or eggs,” the USDA urges. Be sure to wash your hands for a full 20 seconds and remember to dry them only on clean towels afterwards.

For more information, an executive summary of the study can be viewed here.

Additionally the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is available at 888-MP-HOTLINE (888-674-6854).

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