Consumers Make a Lot of Food Safety Mistakes, Putting Their Families at Risk for Illness
“We observe a lot of consumers doing things wrong,” said Sheryl Cates, an RTI food safety researcher. “In surveys, they say they’re doing it right, but you observe them and, for example, although they’ll say they’re washing their hands properly, they’re really just rinsing them.”
Year one of the project focused on the use of food thermometers. We asked participants to prepare turkey burgers in NCSU test kitchens. Half of the participants watched a USDA video about food thermometer use first.
We found that those who viewed the video were twice as likely to use a thermometer, and twice as likely to place it in the burger correctly, as those who didn’t view the video. They were also more likely to cook the burgers to at least 165°F, the recommended internal temperature.
Across all participants, however, risky food safety behaviors were rampant. The consumers in our study failed to properly clean their hands 97 percent of the time, and nearly half of them transferred bacteria to the spice containers they were using. More information about the study is available in this report prepared for USDA.
In year two, we studied whether people wash poultry before cooking it. Many consumers follow this routine, but it’s not recommended because it does not remove bacteria and can spread bacteria to sinks or nearby food.