Food safety: Take matters into your own hands
June 27th, 2014
02:00 PM ET
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Reading, writing, arithmetic and...hand washing? Personal hygiene might seem like an odd addition to the academic canon, but a new study found that a significant portion of home cooks may not have mastered the basics of kitchen cleanliness. This can have some pretty serious impact on the health of the people they feed.

As we’ve noted many, many times before, if it seems like foodborne illness is on the rise, that’s because it is. About 48 million people contract some form of food poisoning each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and salmonella is often the culprit. The bacterial infection causes an estimated 1.3 million illnesses each year in the United States.

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service hopes to tackle that toll with the help of a “Salmonella Action Plan," only part of the effort is centered around creating best practices for food inspectors and farmers. The rest will be focused on teaching consumers about food safety.

For Dr. Christine Bruhn, a plan for public education can’t come quickly enough. As director of the Center for Consumer Research and a professor and researcher with the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology, Bruhn has spent her career advocating for better public awareness of the risks consumers face from food, and the role they play in their own well-being.

As team leader for a recent study funded by Foster Farms (a name familiar to many as the likely source of the chicken at the center of the salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 600 people last year), Bruhn saw firsthand how many home cooks are unaware of food safety basics - starting with proper hand washing.

Participants in the 120-person study were given $120 and asked to prepare their favorite chicken and salad recipes on camera in their own kitchens. They were not informed until afterward that they weren’t being assessed for the deliciousness of their dishes or sparkling presentation skills. Rather, they were being grilled on their sanitary practices, including hand washing before and throughout their cooking, the temperature of their refrigerator and the placement of the raw chicken within it, the temperature to which they cooked the chicken and the measures they took to prevent cross-contamination between the raw chicken and the salad ingredients.

Bruhn's takeaway: The public has a lot to learn.

Bruhn and her team studied the tapes, temperature readings and participants' food safety questions and found a few disturbing trends among the participants' methods, namely that 65% didn't wash their hands at the outset, 38% failed to wash their hands after handling raw chicken, 40% undercooked the chicken and only 5% voluntarily used a thermometer to check the meat's temperature, while most relied solely on appearance to assess the chicken's doneness.

At the same time, 85% of participants said they serve chicken dishes weekly, 48% indicated they had a food handler certificate or had previously worked in a restaurant and only 21% believed their family could become ill from chicken prepared in their home. While 36% of respondents believe they bear primary responsibility for their own food safety, another 36% believes that is the job of the food producers.

There's a deep disconnect between what people think they know about their role in the food safety chain, and what they're actually cooking up in their kitchens. Bruhn believes that a public education campaign is what's needed to bridge that gap.

"Half of the people said that they had food safety training, but they were busy doing other things. Some of them even washed their hands at the beginning, but then you get involved in something," explained Bruhn. "You get a phone call, and you've just been touching the chicken, so you pick up your phone and you didn't wash your hands yet. The cell phone was actually one of the sources of contamination pretty frequently."

It only spreads out from there, Bruhn explained. "You forgot the spices, so you open a cupboard door, reach for the spices, all of that without washing your hands! And the incredible thing is that if you have a moist hand, salmonella sticks here. Then it gets spread - to the spice container, to the cabinet handle, to the door of your refrigerator, everything you touch."

Her suggestion is to think of salmonella like honey. "You know how you touch honey and then you touch something else and there's honey residue left there? Consider your chicken as if it's covered in honey, and when you don't wash your hands, you're spreading it everywhere - you just can't see it."

To take food safety into your (sufficiently washed) hands, Bruhn recommends the following safety protocols:

– Wash your hands with soap for a minimum of 20 seconds, and dry them - ideally with a single-use paper towel - both before starting the cooking process, and throughout, especially after touching raw chicken.

– Store meat at the bottom of the refrigerator, in a refrigerator drawer or on a tray to prevent juices dripping onto other foods and potentially contaminating them. Set your refrigerator at 40°F to inhibit bacterial growth.

– Don't wash raw chicken, as that can lead to cross-contamination in the kitchen.

– Cook poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F, beef, pork veal and lamb to 145°F and ground meat to 160°F measured with a calibrated thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat, without touching a bone.

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A brief history of chicken washing

soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Pete/Ark

    "NANNY SAVE ME !!!!!" –

    June 30, 2014 at 2:21 pm |
  2. Nino Savatt

    Broadcasting from my mind to yours, can I say hello?
    Everything you know (about kitchen kleanliness) is wrong!
    If you don't believe me check out this brochure and then read my book.

    Chicken products are way more dirty than pork products. Chicken is so nasty, it is recommended not to wash it because the microspray ( the same stuff that comes from each toilet flush and puts your btoom bacteria on your tooth brush) can and will contaminate your whole kitchen.

    Maybe it should have been said – Leave Cooking Chicken to the Professionals, like you do your plumbing problems.

    June 30, 2014 at 2:18 pm |
  3. CDC

    what kind of slob picks up their phone with chicken slime all over their hands? If they are doing that then this article wont help them because there is a bigger root problem with their cleanliness.

    June 30, 2014 at 12:55 pm |
    • Ronald RayGuns

      Your SLOB of a Prezident did it while scratching his armpit over a sneeze guard.

      June 30, 2014 at 1:58 pm |
      • dinoknuckledragger

        That wasn't our president, that was our vice president Chainie. (put em all in chains and let the guards sort em out).

        June 30, 2014 at 2:24 pm |
  4. palintwit

    Why is it every time someone mentions Chick-fil-A I think of toothless, bible thumping, tea party patriot hypocrites who wave the Stars and Bars, drink Everclear from mason jars and boink their cousins ?

    June 30, 2014 at 11:31 am |
    • Netmonger

      Uhhh.. Because you just described their customer demographic to a 't'?

      June 30, 2014 at 12:35 pm |
    • SmarterThanYou

      The same reason you make me think of unwashed, low IQ, bloodsucking, ignorant fools.

      Thank God for the Supreme Court and the 2014 November elections.

      June 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm |
    • Educated Christian with full set of teeth

      Why is it that every time someone stands up for morality and Christian beliefs, there is a better-than-you group of society that always thinks their way is the best? You are one more example of someone who claims to be "tolerant and accepting of all" but stereotypes and spreads hatred more than anyone.

      June 30, 2014 at 1:00 pm |
      • Reality Patrol

        If you notice, those types of people react that way with all subject, not just religion.

        July 1, 2014 at 6:53 am |
    • Porcupine

      Because you are a prejudice jerkoff who has no concept of tact.

      June 30, 2014 at 1:22 pm |
    • Moogy

      I heard that a Chik fil a sandwich has over 100 ingredients in it.

      June 30, 2014 at 6:47 pm |
  5. Gammar

    You should have your wife kiss your balls for good luck.

    June 29, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
  6. Gammar

    Yet they now tell us not to wash raw chicken. Go figure.

    June 29, 2014 at 7:05 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Washing raw chicken actually spreads salmonella! Here's a bunch about that:

      June 30, 2014 at 1:47 pm |
  7. pumbaa

    The Bible tells you to wash your hands before eating. However it took thousand of years for doctors to learn to wash their hands between seeing patients.

    June 29, 2014 at 5:33 pm |
  8. SixDegrees

    Turning your kitchen into a surgical ward is a ridiculous suggestion that has never been necessary in the past. What's needed is a change in the way chickens are raised and slaughter, that prevents them from spending their short lives covered in each others droppings and that promotes slaughtering techniques that emphasis cleanliness – rather than speed.

    The food industry used to work aggressively to prevent this sort of abuse and sloppiness. Now, it wants us to accept it as inevitable, and pardon them for their callous carelessness.

    June 29, 2014 at 5:24 am |
  9. Seriously?

    My mother taught me how to eliminate without getting anything on me. Wash my hands? Sure. When they get dirty.

    Food Services, however, is a whole other ball of wax.

    June 28, 2014 at 10:32 am |
  10. Marva

    Problem w/ this whole article.
    It isn't about washing hands - it's about cooking chicken.

    June 28, 2014 at 10:09 am |
  11. Thinking things through

    I don't use the meat thermometer for chicken cooked in the oven. I've had experience over the years to know how long to cook it. (The charcoal grill would be different.) The other things, though, are common sense.

    June 28, 2014 at 6:26 am |
    • Marva

      ... everything else is common sense....
      It isn't for many people, hence the illnesses.

      June 28, 2014 at 10:07 am |
  12. Shirley U. Jest

    Wait. There is something wrong with this picture. Foster Farms, "a name familiar to many as the likely source of the chicken at the center of the salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 600 people last year", funded research on how home cooks prepare their chicken meals and how clean and sanitary they are during the process? Why?
    Why? To see if they could blame the salmonella out break on their customers bad storage, preparation and cooking practices?

    One glaring omission in this study is what the percentage of cooks rinsed their chicken before cooking it.

    The article bears one more question, did Foster Farms do an internal study on the cleanliness and hygiene of their chicken processing operations and its employees? If so, why didn't they sjhare those results; they would have been much more interesting. How many of their employees had an itch to scratch and contaminated their hands or gloves?

    June 28, 2014 at 1:23 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      47% of preparers washed their chicken. And we've had a LOT to say about that before:

      As for Foster Farms' involvement - I didn't get the sense that they're trying to minimize blame, but they ARE trying to minimize risk. If you took the most organically-raised, heirloom, free-range chicken in the world and stored it at 50 degrees in the center of your refrigerator and didn't wash your hands and cooked it to 145F, you'd still have a problem. I get the sense that they're going with a multi-pronged approach, addressing issues on the farm and in the supply chain AND trying to educate their consumers. I think that's actually pretty responsible.

      June 30, 2014 at 9:12 am |
  13. steeve-0

    Maybe it's because I worked in foodservice for 13 years, but I wash my hands at least half a dozen times while I cook. It's an inconvenience many times, yet I still do it. Can't help it.

    June 27, 2014 at 8:48 pm |
  14. Katie

    How sad is it when you have to tell people they have to wash their hands?

    June 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm |
    • Marva

      And, have to explain how to do it.

      June 28, 2014 at 10:08 am |
    • SmarterThanYou

      You only have to explain it to Democrats – that's why CNN is helping you Katie.

      June 30, 2014 at 12:40 pm |
      • Jess

        Democrat here, and I know to wash my hands several times during the cooking process. So... No.

        June 30, 2014 at 2:09 pm |
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