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Many U.S. consumers do not use a food thermometer when cooking poultry, despite hazardous risks

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Many consumers do not follow some recommended food safety practices when handling raw poultry at home, according to a study conducted by RTI International, Tennessee State University and Kansas State University.

The study found that fewer than two-thirds of consumers own a food thermometer, and less than 10 percent of food thermometer owners actually use it to check for doneness of all types of poultry.

Among consumers who own a food thermometer, usage was higher when cooking whole chickens and turkeys (57-73 percent).

"The USDA recommends consumers use a food thermometer to check for doneness of meat and poultry," said Katherine Kosa, food and nutrition policy researcher at RTI and lead author of the study. "Pathogens, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, may be present on raw poultry. Using a food thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure food is cooked to a safe internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria that may present. USDA recommends that consumers cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F."

This study, published in the Journal of Food Protection, identified other food safety practices where improvements are needed. Nearly 70 percent of consumers rinse or wash raw poultry before cooking it, a potentially unsafe practice because splattering contaminated water may spread bacteria to other foods and kitchen surfaces. 

The study also found that only 18 percent of consumers correctly store raw poultry products in the refrigerator, and only 11 percent of consumers who thaw raw poultry in cold water do it correctly.

This research was funded in part through a grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (Grant No. 2012-68003-19606) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The survey findings will be used by the researchers to develop science-based education materials for consumers, including an interactive website, game and mobile application and educational curriculum.