When preparing meals at home, cooks often do not properly prepare chicken or regularly wash their hands, a study from the University of California, Davis finds.
The study, which examined preparation of raw poultry, found that the most common risks stemmed from cross contamination and insufficient cooking.
"The most surprising aspect of these findings to me was the prevalence of undercooking," said Christine Bruhn, director of the Center for Consumer research at UC Davis, who authored the study.
Moving into peak season for foodborne illness – the summer – consumers can benefit from being aware of better food safety practices, she said.
"Even tips usually considered basic, like washing hands with soap and water before and after handling raw poultry, and never rinsing raw poultry in the sink, still need to be emphasized for a safer experience," Bruhn added.
Researchers say these results will help hone in on what food safety messages consumers need to hear.
It was prepared through analysis of video footage taken of 120 participants preparing a self-selected chicken dish and salad in their home kitchens. The participants were experienced in chicken preparation, with 85% serving chicken dishes in their home weekly, and 84% reporting being knowledgeable about food safety. Nearly half – 48% -- indicated they had received formal food safety training.
Cross contamination issues
Most participants, 65%, did not wash their hands before starting meal preparation and 38% did not wash their hands after touching raw chicken.
Only 10% of participants washed their hands for the recommended duration of 20 seconds and about one-third of the washing occasions used water only, without soap.
Finally. nearly half of participants were observed washing their chicken in the sink prior to preparation, a practice that is not recommended as it leads to spreading bacteria over multiple surfaces in the kitchen.
Forty% of participants undercooked their chicken, regardless of preparation method and only 29% knew the correct USDA recommended temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Researchers observed that cooking thermometers were not widely used, with only 48% of participants owning one, and 69% of those reporting that they seldom use it to check if chicken is completely cooked.
Most participants determined "fully cooked" based on appearance, an unreliable method according to the USDA. No participants reported calibrating their thermometers to ensure accuracy.
Renewed push for consumer messaging
"This study is a clear reminder that we all need to be working together to remind consumers about proper handling and cooking of raw chicken in a manner that prevent undercooking and prevents the possibility of bacteria spreading to other foods and food contact surfaces in the kitchen," said National Chicken Council spokesman Tom Super.
"It is always important to consistently follow safe food handling and cooking practices because all raw agricultural products – whether its produce, fruit, meat or poultry – could contain naturally occurring bacteria that might make someone sick. But, there are steps people can take in the home to significantly reduce their risk."
The study's complete findings will be published in the September/October issue of Food Protection Trends.