HEADLINES Published January31, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Most Home Cooks Contaminate Their Food

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A study found that nearly 90% of home cooks contaminated their food while they were preparing it.
(Photo : George Marks, Getty Images)

Super Bowl Sunday is a day for parties and homemade food like chili, chicken wings, and other chow. But you might want to brush up on your food safety techniques before you cook for a crowd. Researchers at Kansas State University have found that if you are like most home chefs you may be inadvertently contaminating the food you are making, even if you have received information about food safety.

In a study, they found that 90% of cooks accidentally contaminated a fruit salad with bacteria picked up from raw meat. In 24% of the salads, the contamination was heavy.

Their study involved 123 people who were the main cooks for their families. They were divided into three groups, one of which watched a presentation on children's nutrition with no information on food safety and two that received different educational presentations on food safety. The participants were then videotaped in a test kitchen while they made a meal that involved raw beef or chicken and a pre-made fruit salad. The meat was inoculated with a nonharmful bacteria as a tracer so that cross-contamination could be tracked.

The participants were scored on how well and how often they washed their hands and on behaviors such as how they handled the meat and whether they washed the cutting board between uses.  The fruit salad and the surfaces in the kitchen were then tested for the tracer bacteria.

Almost all the salads had been contaminated, but contamination levels were lower for the groups that received food safety messages. Hand towels were the most contaminated surface and they were frequently handled by the participants. However, most participants tracked contamination around the kitchen, including onto handles, countertops, faucets, and trash cans.

"We found that most people tried to wash their hands, but did it very ineffectively - either only using water or not washing for long enough," said Randy Phebus, professor of food safety at Kansas State University and one of the authors of the study. "By not washing their hands correctly, they spread contamination to the hand towels. They then go back to those towels multiple times and recontaminate themselves or the kitchen surfaces with those towels."

The study was published in the journal Food Protection Trends.

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