Food safety: Over 25% of people cook with raw chicken

food safety, raw chicken

Over a quarter of study participants contaminate salad with raw chicken – not washing surfaces efficiently or cooking chicken properly can pose great threats to food safety

Analysing the risks posed to food safety, researchers highlight the consequence of not hand washing and cleaning the kitchen, or cooking chicken, to reduce the risk of foodborne illness when cooking at home.

Poultry frequently carries the bacteria salmonella and campylobacter, which can be carried through processing and packaging, potentially going all the way to your cutting board and utensils. Even organically fed poultry can become infected with these bacteria.

Though washing raw chicken is not recommended – as it can inadvertently contaminate other foods and surfaces and increasing the risk of foodborne illness – research emphasises the importance of cooking chicken to avoid risks of salmonella and other illnesses.

Washing poultry can lead to increased contamination in the kitchen

Recruiting around 300 home cooks who said they washed poultry before cooking it, the researchers sent food safety information to 142 of the study participants, outlining risk-reduction efforts – such as the recommendation to not wash raw chicken during food preparation.

The remaining 158 study participants did not receive the education intervention for the trial. All 300 study participants were then invited to test kitchens were also equipped with video cameras that filmed meal preparation. Participants were asked to cook chicken thighs and prepare a salad.  

After preparing the chicken thighs, but before putting the chicken in the oven, participants were called out of the kitchen to conduct a short interview, then, they were sent back into the kitchen to cook the chicken thighs, prepare the salad, and clean the kitchen as they would at home.

What the study participants didn’t know was that the chicken thighs were inoculated with a harmless strain of detectable bacteria – but only the researchers knew this, allowing them to swab surfaces in the kitchen to see whether any cross-contamination occurred during the food preparation and cooking process.

When study participants left the kitchen to conduct the interview, researchers swabbed the kitchen to identify any potential contamination, which was repeated after each participant had completed cooking the meal and cleaned the kitchen. The prepared salad was also tested for possible contamination.

Ellen Shumaker, corresponding author of the study and an extension associate at North Carolina State University, said: “We wanted to know what effect an educational intervention would have on getting people to stop washing poultry before cooking, and what effect any resulting change in behaviour might have on reducing contamination in the kitchen.

“We also wanted to get a better idea of how, if at all, washing poultry actually led to increased contamination in the kitchen.”

39% of the participants who did not receive the intervention washed their raw chicken

93% of the participants who received the intervention did not wash the chicken, as compared to 39% of the participants who did not receive the intervention.

Yet there was a surprise regarding the number people who did wash the raw chicken and people who didn’t wash the chicken, who also had similar levels of contamination from the raw chicken which they prepared in their salads – showing the lack of knowledge participants had regarding how to properly, and safely, prepare chicken.

Shumaker finalised: “We think the salad contamination stems from people doing a poor job of washing their hands after handling the raw chicken, and/or doing a poor job of sanitizing the sink and surrounding surfaces before rinsing or handling the salad.

“Regardless of whether people washed their chicken, the kitchen sinks became contaminated by the raw chicken, while there was relatively little contamination of nearby counters. This was a little surprising, since the conventional wisdom had been that the risk associated with washing chicken was because water would splash off of the chicken and contaminate surrounding surfaces.

“Instead, the sink itself was becoming contaminated, even when the chicken wasn’t being washed. Washing the chicken is still not a good idea, but this study demonstrates the need to focus on preventing contamination of sinks and emphasizing the importance of hand-washing and cleaning and sanitising surfaces.”

food safety, raw chicken


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