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Study: Consumers continue to mishandle raw poultry

Howard Shooter/Thinkstock raw chicken breats
Washing and rinsing raw meat and poultry can increase risk of bacteria spreading around kitchen.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates that millions of Americans are sickened with foodborne illnesses each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Now, results from a new U.S. Department of Agriculture study have revealed that individuals continue to put themselves at risk of illness when they wash or rinse raw poultry.

“Cooking and mealtime is a special occasion for all of us as we come together with our families and friends,” said Dr. Mindy Brashears, USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety. “However, the public health implications of these findings should be of concern to everyone. Even when consumers think they are effectively cleaning after washing poultry, this study shows that bacteria can easily spread to other surfaces and foods. The best practice is not to wash poultry.”

The results of the observational study of 300 people showed how easily bacteria can be spread when surfaces are not effectively cleaned and sanitized. USDA is recommending three easy options to help prevent illness when preparing poultry, or meat, at home:

1. Significantly decrease your risk by preparing foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables and salads, before handling and preparing raw meat and poultry.

The study found that of participants who washed their raw poultry, 60% had bacteria in their sink after washing or rinsing the poultry. Even more concerning is that 14% still had bacteria in their sinks after they attempted to clean the sink. Further, 26% of participants that washed raw poultry transferred bacteria from that raw poultry to their ready-to-eat salad greens.

2. Thoroughly clean and sanitize any surface that has potentially touched or been contaminated by raw meat and poultry or their juices.

The study showed that of participants who did not wash their raw poultry, 31% still managed to get bacteria from the raw poultry onto their salad lettuce. USDA said this high rate of cross-contamination was likely due to a lack of effective hand washing and contamination of the sink and utensils. As such, the agency recommends that consumers clean sinks and countertops with hot, soapy water and then apply a sanitizer. Additionally, USDA said people should wash their hands immediately after handling raw meat and poultry by wetting hands with water, lathering with soap and scrubbing for 20 seconds.

3. Destroy any illness-causing bacteria by cooking meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature, as measured by a food thermometer:

  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops) are safe to eat at 145°F.
  • Ground meats (burgers) are safe to eat at 160°F.
  • Poultry (whole or ground) are safe to eat at 165°F.

USDA relayed that washing, rinsing or brining meat and poultry in salt water, vinegar or lemon juice does not destroy bacteria. To remove anything, raw poultry should be patted with a damp paper towel, after which consumers should wash their hands.

“Everyone has a role to play in preventing illness from food,” said Carmen Rottenberg, administrator of USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service. “Please keep in mind that children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk. Washing or rinsing raw meat and poultry can increase your risk as bacteria spreads around your kitchen, but not washing your hands for 20 seconds immediately after handling those raw foods is just as dangerous.”

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