From cutting boards to ovens, food safety studies find that consumers are not practicing food safety in their kitchens as much as they could and should.
FOOD producers, processors and retailers all are responsible for food safety and are constantly adopting new processes and technologies to produce safer food, according to government and industry leaders.
However, consumers also are responsible for keeping food safe, but their kitchen and preparation processes suggest that they are shirking their responsibility, according to recent studies.
One study conducted in the Netherlands found that consumers cook food improperly and follow poor sanitary practices in their kitchens.
The study, conducted by Dr. Esther van Asselt of the Dutch National Institute for Public Health & the Environment and reported in the April issue of the peer-reviewed journal Risk Analysis, involved 25 individuals who were instructed to prepare the same chicken recipe while being videotaped to assess their cooking and handling practices.
The video revealed that 66% of the participants did not wash their hands after handling raw chicken, 70% did not change or wash their cutting boards or knives used to cut raw chicken and one-third did not cook the chicken properly.
Van Asselt said the study confirmed previous research showing that a large portion of foodborne illnesses occur because consumers improperly handle and prepare food.
She emphasized that washing hands with soap and warm water, keeping cooked and raw foods separate and cooking food to the recommended temperatures are essential to food safety in the kitchen and noted that while her study used chicken, this advice applies to all meat and poultry.
The study was also financially supported by ZonMW, a Dutch organization that promotes health research and development. The complete study is available at www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/122267374/issue.
A second study found that American consumers are becoming more lax about their in-kitchen food handling and preparation practices, with fewer people taking basic precautions to reduce their risk of contracting foodborne illnesses.
The study, the fourth annual food and health survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), found that the number of people taking these precautions is down in nearly every food safety category from last year. For instance:
* Eighty-seven percent of people reported washing their hands with soap and warm water while handling and preparing food, down from 92% last year;
* Seventy-seven percent reported washing cutting boards between uses with bleach or soap and water, down from 84% last year;
* Seventy-one percent reported cooking foods to recommended temperatures, down from 71% last year;
* Sixty-nine percent reported that they properly store leftovers within two hours of serving the food, down from 79% last year, and
* Sixty-three percent reported that they separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from ready-to-eat food products, down from 70% last year.
The study also found that consumers do not use microwave ovens properly, with just 68% following all cooking instructions, down from 79% last year; 62% flipping, rotating or stirring food during its microwave cooking process, down from 72% last year, and 48% letting food stand for the appropriate time after microwaving, down from 58% last year.
A majority of consumers believe foodborne illnesses are the greatest food safety threat, but a majority also indicated that they can handle the threat (Figures 1 and 2).
The importance of following food safety practices in the home and kitchen is impossible to overstate, IFIC chief executive officer David Schmidt said. Consumers understand the need for such practices, but they still can do a better job of handling food properly at home to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses, he said.
To this point, Schmidt reported that only 49% of consumers expressed confidence in the safety of their food (Figure 3), but only 41% said they have a responsibility for food safety (72% said food manufacturers are responsible, 72% said the government, 57% said farmers and 49% said retailers).
IFIC also reported that taste, price, healthfulness and convenience are, in that order, the biggest influences in consumer food purchasing decisions, with price becoming a greater influence than in the past.
Consumers also believe exercise is more important for good health than food options, although 64% of people are trying to improve the healthfulness of their food selections, IFIC said.
Consumers also are "confused by calories," IFIC said, and while 75% of consumers check nutrition panels for the amount of calories in food, just 30% understand that consuming too many calories leads to weight gain, and only 15% understand how many calories they should be consuming.
The complete study is available at http://www.ific.org/research/foodandhealthsurvey.cfm.
Finally, a survey by Rutgers University found that only 60% of people have ever looked for recalled food products in their cabinets, freezers or refrigerators, and only 10% have ever found a recalled product. Also, at two extremes, 12% of people have eaten food they though was recalled, while more than 25% of people have thrown out food without confirming if it was recalled.
Many consumers said they avoid purchasing food involved in recalls, including other food products that are similar to recalled products or made by the same manufacturer, according to the study, a telephone survey.
Most respondents also said they pay a lot of attention to recalls and talk about them with other people.
The complete study is available at http://www.foodpolicy.rutgers.edu.