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Survey shows need to understand tech use in the kitchen

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By Joe Whitworth+

22-Nov-2016
Last updated on 22-Nov-2016 at 09:54 GMT2016-11-22T09:54:17Z

©iStock/jojje9999
©iStock/jojje9999

Most consumers do not wash their hands after using handheld phones or tablets in the kitchen, according to a survey.

About half use devices such as smartphones or tablets while preparing food, but only about a third of those wash their hands with soap.

Findings come from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) annual food safety survey.

Between October 2015 and January 2016, the FDA surveyed 4,169 Americans ages 18 and older about consumers’ attitudes, behaviors and knowledge of food safety.

The agencies said the finding points to the need for research to better understand how technology is used in the kitchen.

Foodborne illness findings

The survey found awareness is high for Salmonella (93%) and E. coli (89%) and low for Campylobacter (16%).

Consumers were somewhat concerned about illnesses from how they prepare food, but think it is more likely to get ill from food at a restaurant compared to that prepared at home.

USDA-FSIS said the finding that more than half think it is “not very common” to get food poisoning because the way food is prepared in the home is not true and promoting safe food handling in the home is one way to reduce food poisoning nationally.

Respondents were more concerned about raw chicken and beef being contaminated than raw vegetables.

The percent which thought that raw chicken (66%) and beef (41%) were “very likely” to have germs was higher than the 6% who thought the same of raw vegetables.

Questions are designed to measure trends in consumer practices, such as hand and cutting board washing; preparing and consuming potentially risky foods and using food thermometers.

The survey is intended to help FDA and USDA make decisions by providing an understanding of consumer knowledge, attitudes and practices related to in-home food handling habits.

Food thermometer ownership rates have remained constant but usage has slightly increased as in 2016, 67% of respondents owned one.

Reported usage has increased for roasts, chicken parts and hamburgers between 2006 and 2016.

In 2016, 38% report they always use a meat thermometer for roasts, compared to 19% for chicken parts, 10% for hamburgers and 6% for baked egg dishes.

Handwashing trends

The survey asked about hand washing before preparing food, after handling raw meat or poultry, after handling raw fish and after cracking raw eggs.

In all years consumers are more likely to wash hands with soap after touching raw meat or raw fish, than before preparing food, or after cracking raw eggs.

The percent who report washing with soap after touching raw meat or raw fish has remained constant since 2010 and at 85%.

There was a slight decrease in those who reported washing with soap all of the time before preparing food from 78% in 2010 to 75% in 2016.

Similarly, there was a decline in washing with soap after cracking raw eggs from 48% in 2010 to 43% in 2016.

Sixty-seven percent said they always washed raw chicken parts and 68% said they always washed whole chicken or turkeys before cooking them.

The most common method is by rinsing with water (94% used this method for chicken parts and 90% for whole chickens or turkeys).

The agencies said this is not recommended since washing will not destroy pathogens and may increase the risk of contaminating other foods and surfaces.

FDA’s microbiological sampling

Meanwhile, the FDA has tested 1,050 cucumber and 1,130 hot peppers as part of its sampling program started in November 2015.

Of the cucumber samples, 15 tested positive for Salmonella while the rest tested negative for the pathogen and E. coli O157.

Of the hot pepper samples, 35 tested positive for Salmonella and one tested positive for a strain of Shiga-toxin producing E. coli incapable of causing severe illness.

Whole genome sequencing on positive samples will get the genetic ‘fingerprint’ of the pathogen to be added to databases used to match human illnesses with potential food sources.

The FDA began sampling and testing cucumbers and hot peppers because they have been associated with outbreaks of foodborne illness and may come into contact with contaminated water, soil or equipment during growing, harvesting and post-harvest.

It plans to collect 1,600 samples of each commodity - 380 domestic cucumber samples and more than 1,200 imported and 320 domestic and 1,280 imported hot pepper samples.

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