We all know that we should wash our hands before preparing food or that we should check the temperatures of foods, especially meats, to be sure they are thoroughly cooked. However, a recent report from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicates that consumers (that’s you and me) need to work on improving our food handling practices in the home.
North Carolina State University (NCSU) and RTI International were contracted by FSIS and USDA to conduct meal preparation studies in actual food preparation situations to better evaluate consumer food handling behaviors. In the first part of a 5 part study, researchers focused on consumer use of food thermometers when cooking ground turkey patties.
Six test kitchens were set up in both urban and rural areas of North Carolina. Before preparing a meal in the kitchen participants were randomized into the treatment or control group. A total of 383 people participated in the study, 201 in the control group and 182 in the treatment group. The treatment group watched a 3- minute USDA food safety video on using a food thermometer to check the internal temperatures of food when cooking while the control group received no information. Cameras in the kitchens observed participant activity, specifically looking at use of the thermometer to check temperatures, final cooking temperature of the turkey burger, potential points of cross contamination and handwashing practices.
- Only 34% of participants used a food thermometer to check the final internal temperature of the turkey burger.
- Of those that used a thermometer, approximately 50% did not cook the burger to the correct temperature of 165°F.
- Participants in the treatment group were more likely to use the thermometer and use it correctly than control group participants.
- The study indicated participants spread bacteria from raw poultry onto other foods and surfaces in the kitchen. This included spice containers (48% of the time) used in seasoning burgers, refrigerator door handles (11% of the time) and salad ingredients (5% of the time).
- For the control group there were approximately 1,195 instances when handwashing was needed and 1,054 times for the treatment group. In each case, participants only washed their hands about one-third of the time.
- When participants did wash their hands, it was done correctly (as defined by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines) only 3% of the time.
- The most common incorrect practices included not washing hands for at least 20 seconds followed by not wetting hands with water prior to applying soap.
Participants indicated that watching the video prior to cooking was a good reminder about taking the temperature of foods. With our busy lifestyles, maybe we all need reminders when it comes to safe food handling. Most importantly we need to put those reminders into action as we shop, store, prepare and serve food in our homes.
So at your next family event put the following into action to ensure safe food:
- Wash hands for at least 20 seconds by wetting your hands first, working up a good lather with soap, rinsing under running water and drying with a paper towel. Remember any time your hands become dirty take 20 seconds to wash them again.
- Prevent cross contamination of raw meats with other foods and surfaces by using separate cutting boards and dishes for raw foods and ready to eat or cooked foods. Always wash and rinse utensil and surfaces that come in contact with raw meats and again wash your hands often
- Use a thermometer to take the final cooking temperature of meats before serving. Cook ground meat to 160°F, poultry (both whole pieces and ground) to 165°F and beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks and chops to 145°F.