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Study: Many consumers do not wash their hands after cracking eggs, increasing food poisoning risk

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Less than half of adults, 48 percent, wash their hands with soap and water after cracking eggs, which could cause food poisoning due to the possibility of cross-contamination, according to a study conducted by RTI International, Tennessee State University and Kansas State University.

"Numerous cases and outbreaks of salmonella infection are attributable to shell eggs each year in the United States," said Katherine Kosa, food and nutrition policy researcher at RTI and lead author of the study. "Improper handling and consumption of raw eggs can increase the risk of salmonellosis, a type of foodborne illness. Therefore, it is important for people to wash hands and surfaces often when handling raw eggs and that they cook eggs to the proper temperature."

The study, published in the Journal of Food Protection, revealed consumers generally follow most of recommended food safety practices for raw eggs; however, improvements are needed in a few areas to prevent salmonella infections associated with eggs.

RTI conducted a nationally representative web survey of 1,500 U.S. adult grocery shoppers to characterize consumers' egg handling and consumption practices and the extent to which they follow recommended food safety practices.

Although most consumers reported they do not eat raw eggs or foods made with raw or undercooked eggs, more than 25 percent of consumers reported eating raw, homemade cookie dough or cake batter in the past 12 months, a potentially unsafe practice. Among consumers who eat fried or poached eggs, more than half cook the eggs so that the whites and/or the yolks are still soft or runny. USDA recommends cooking eggs until both the whites and yolks are firm to destroy any salmonella that may be present.

"Consumers can reduce salmonella infections associated with shell eggs by following the four core food safety messages of the "Safe Food Families" campaign: clean, separate, cook and chill," Kosa said.

Findings from this study along with other consumer behavior research will support the development of science-based consumer education materials that can help reduce foodborne illness from salmonella. The materials will include an interactive website, game and mobile application and educational curriculum.

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.