October 31, 2014

Study of At-Home Burger and Salad Preparations Finds Risky Behaviors

When University of California-Davis food safety researcher Dr. Christine Bruhn set out to observe 200 households as they prepared burgers and a salad at their home, there was no way to hide the fact that their movements were being watched.

Despite the videotape intrusion, consumers in the observational study were extremely prone to engage in dangerous methods of handling their food, according to her recent research paper published by the Journal of Food Protection. Bruhn, a UC-Davis faculty member whose research focuses on consumer issues in food safety and quality, will present her findings Tuesday in the inaugural Fight BAC! Brown Bag Webinar Series. The webinar is entitled: “What’s Going on in the Kitchen? Food Safety Practices.”

Bruhn told Food Poisoning Bulletin that she’ll also emphasize in her presentation the areas that health educators should stress to encourage consumers to reduce risks of foodborne illness in their own homes. There are food safety lessons to be learned for practices as fundamental as washing salad ingredients, she said.

Her study took video footage of 199 volunteers in Northern Califonria preparing hamburgers and salad and analyzed it for compliance with U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations and for violations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code 2009. The importance of including burger preparation in the study is that ground beef has been linked to outbreaks of toxic E. coli and other pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella.

Dirty Hands, Undercooked Beef

The majority of volunteers, 78 percent, cooked their ground beef patties to the Food Code 2009 recommended internal temperature of 155 degrees, with 22 percent declaring the burger done when the temperature was below 155 degrees. Volunteers checked burger doneness with a meat thermometer in only 4 percent of households and only 13 percent of study subjects knew the recommended internal temperature for ground beef.

The average hand washing time observed was 8 seconds and only 7 percent of the hand washing events on videotape met the recommended guideline of 20 seconds.

Potential cross-contamination was common, with an average of 43 events noted per household in the course of making dinner. Hands were the most commonly observed vehicle of potential cross-contamination, Bruhn said.

Her analysis of food handling behaviors indicates that consumers with and without food safety training exposed themselves to potential foodborne illness even while under video observation.

Bruhn, who is director of the Center for Consumer Research, also is collaborating with North Carolina State University and Kansas State University to reduce health risks associated with undercooked hamburgers. The researchers will encourage television food programs to include safe food-handling practices and messages.

The Fight BAC! Brown Bag Webinar Series is sponsored by the nonprofit Partnership for Food Safety Education, comprised of leading food industry associations, representatives of Federal agencies, leading science and health professional associations and consumer groups.

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