June 21, 2024

USDA Study on Consumer Food Preparation Behavior Highlights Risks

A USDA study on consumer food preparation behavior highlights the risks of not following food safety rules. The five year study looked at how consumers prepare meals in light of the risks of food poisoning. The study was produced by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) as part of their efforts to educate the public about safe food handling practices.

USDA Study on Consumer Food Preparation Behavior Highlights Risks

USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Emilio Esteban said in a statement, “These studies are important for USDA to understand consumer behaviors in the kitchen and it is timely to be releasing the latest findings during Food Safety Education Month. The results allow us to shape food safety communications and help consumers safely prepare food.”

The three areas the study concentrated on were handwashing, thermometer use, and cross-contamination. The study used a harmless tracer bacteria, which was injected into pork sausage, to simulate the spread of pathogenic bacteria during meal preparation. Participants prepared breakfast with pork sausage, a fruit salad including cantaloupe, and shell eggs.

The participants’ behavior was coded to measure adherence to recommended food safety practices, including thermometer use, handwashing, cleaning and sanitizing, safely preparing shell eggs, and washing produce.

For the cross-contamination part of the study, surfaces were tested after consumers prepared the pork. The kitchen sink was most often contaminated, with 34% of participants contaminating the sink during meal preparation. The next highest was cantaloupe; 29% of participants introduced contamination when cutting the cantaloupe. Cross-contamination between meats and produce can cause foodborne illness, since those foods are typically consumed without a “kill step,” or heating food to destroy pathogens.

For handwashing, 87% of participants self-report that they wash their hands before starting to cook in the test kitchen But only 44% of participants were observed washing their hands before preparing the meal. And handwashing was not attempted 83% of the time when it should have been, such as touching raw sausage and unwashed cantaloupe, and cracking eggs. Throughout the consumer food preparation study, 96% of handwashing attempts did not contain all of the necessary steps.

And for thermometer use, just 50% of participants checked the doneness of the sausage with a food thermometer; 50% did not. it’s important to check doneness of all food that is cooked to make sure it reaches a safe final internal temperature.

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