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Consumers fail to properly clean hands before meals 97 per cent of the time

An observational study also revealed poor cross-contamination prevention practices and low food thermometer use.

MAD DASH: The USDA advises washing hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling raw meat, poultry or eggs, for 20 seconds, and drying on a clean towel

A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that when it comes to handwashing before meals, consumers are failing to properly clean their hands 97 per cent of the time.

“As a mother of three young children, I am very familiar with the mad dash families go through to put dinner on the table,” said Carmen Rottenberg, Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA. “You can’t see, smell or feel bacteria. By simply washing your hands properly, you can protect your family and prevent that bacteria from contaminating your food and key areas in your kitchen.”

The preliminary results of the observational study, conducted by USDA in collaboration with RTI International and North Carolina State University, showed the following.

Handwashing:

  • Consumers are not washing their hands correctly 97 per cent of the time
  • Most consumers failed to wash their hands for the necessary 20 seconds
  • Numerous participants did not dry their hands with a clean towel

Thermometer use:

  • Only 34 per cent of participants used a food thermometer to check that their burgers were cooked properly
  • Of those who did use the food thermometer, nearly half still did not cook the burgers to the safe minimum internal temperature

Cross-contamination:

  • The study showed participants spreading bacteria from raw poultry onto other surfaces and food items in the test kitchen
  • 48 per cent of the time are contaminating spice containers used while preparing burgers
  • 11 per cent of the time are spreading bacteria to refrigerator handles
  • 5 per cent of the time are tainting salads due to cross-contamination

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million Americans contract foodborne illnesses each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalisations and 3,000 deaths. Children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk.

With grilling season upon us, USDA is reminding consumers to use a food thermometer and cook meat and poultry products to the recommended safe internal temperatures.

When cooking meat and poultry patties, insert the thermometer through the side of the patty until the probe reaches the centre of the patty. Meat and poultry products are done when they reach these minimum internal temperatures:

  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145°F
  • Ground meats (burgers): 160°F
  • Poultry (whole or ground): 165°F

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