How often do you wash your hands when handling poultry?
It may not be often enough. According to results of a study presented last week by Christine Bruhn, food safety expert and director of the Center for Consumer Research at University of California at Davis, almost two-thirds of people didn't wash their hands before starting food preparation, and 38% didn't wash their hands after handling raw chicken.
The news took on added significance this holiday weekend, after Foster Farms and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday evening that the company is voluntarily recalling chicken products produced in March with "use or freeze by" dates ranging from March 21 to March 29 because of possible salmonella contamination.
The company's news release noted that Foster Farms-branded chicken currently on store shelves is not involved, and the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service says the products are most likely no longer available for purchase, but may be in consumers' freezers.
The UC Davis study was based on video recordings of 120 people preparing chicken and a salad in their own homes. Eighty-four percent of them thought they were knowledgeable about food safety, but almost half washed their chicken, the study showed.
"Don't wash your chicken, wash your hands instead," Bruhn said, explaining that splattering water can send bacteria from the chicken up to 2 feet away.
Nine in 10 didn't wash their hands for the recommended 20 seconds, and a third of the time didn't use soap. Insufficient hand-washing increases the risk of transferring bacteria.
Forty percent did not cook their chicken to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving it undercooked and risking bacterial growth. Only half even owned thermometers, and none had calibrated them. Bruhn noted the appearance of meat is not a reliable method of telling when it is done.
While nearly all the study participants knew about salmonella, a bacterium associated with poultry that can cause food-poisoning, most were unaware of the temperature recommendations. Even before cooking began, some participants stored their raw chicken at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, giving bacteria a chance to grow.
Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, mentioned that summertime typically sees a spike in food-borne illnesses as people use their outdoor grills or go on picnics.
Grilling or not, Bruhn encouraged using different trays for the meat when it's raw and after it's cooked.
Foster Farms provided funding for the study after learning about Bruhn's work on preparation of hamburger, which found similar concerns. Foster Farms and other agriculture and food safety groups, including UC Davis, the California Poultry Association and the state Department of Food and Agriculture, have formed a coalition to help inform consumers about how to prepare food safely.
Food Protection Trends will publish the full study in its September/October issue.
The Fresno Bee contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at email@example.com.