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Here's the real reason so many Americans get food poisoning
Here's the real reason so many Americans get food poisoning

Here’s the real reason so many Americans get food poisoning

Government scientists trying out a new kitchen safety training video got an unpleasant surprise when they watched how people behave during food preparation.

Not only did their volunteers fail to use meat thermometers properly — or even at all in many cases — but they failed to wash their hands and spread germs all over the kitchen.

They videotaped their volunteers and counted thousands of instances in which people spread germs from raw meat to salad, refrigerator handles and even spice containers.

The findings help explain why 48 million Americans catch foodborne illnesses every year, said Carmen Rottenberg, top food safety official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA team was trying out a new video to help people understand how and when to use food thermometers. They showed the video to 182 volunteers, and didn’t show it to another 201, and then put all of them into a test kitchen and asked them to prepare turkey burgers and salad.

The volunteers were videotaped as they worked.

Image: Man washing hands in bathroom sink, cropped
Most people don’t wash their hands properly when working in the kitchen, the USDA foundPhotoAlto/Sigrid Olsson / Getty Images

Those who had watched the video were twice as likely to use a meat thermometer when cooking the turkey burgers, the USDA team found: 75 percent of those who’d seen the training video at least tried to use one, even if they did it incorrectly. That compares to just 34 percent of the volunteers who did not see the video.

“They had access to everything in the kitchen but perhaps they didn’t think about the meat thermometers,” Rottenberg said. They should have — the USDA and CDC recommend always using a meat thermometer to cook raw meat.

“We know you cannot tell if the burger is done by cutting it or looking at it,” Rottenberg said.

“The basic safety practice you can employ in your kitchen, which is washing your hands, is not something our participants did,” Rottenberg said.

The USDA team had spiked the turkey meat with a harmless virus that is often used to substitute for norovirus in lab tests. They tested kitchen surfaces and the salad and found it everywhere.

“In some cases the participants did not wash their hands at all, and in other cases they washed their hands and were ineffective,” Rottenberg said.

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