Study: Meat thermometers missing from US kitchens

by Erica Shaffer
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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC – Poultry processors and federal food safety authorities have dedicated considerable resources toward foodborne pathogen detection and reduction in meat and poultry products. But despite the risks, many consumers do not follow basic food safety precautions when preparing poultry at home, a study published in the Journal of Food Protection revealed.

The study found that less than two-thirds of consumers own a food thermometer, and less than 10 percent of consumers who own a food thermometer actually use it to check for doneness. Thermometer use was highest when cooking whole chickens and turkeys (57 percent and 73 percent respectively), according to the study.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 1 million people in the United States contract Salmonella in a given year, while more than 400 annual deaths have been linked to the pathogen. CDC also estimates that Campylobacter, one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the US, affects more than 1.3 million individuals each year.

"The USDA recommends consumers use a food thermometer to check for doneness of meat and poultry," said Katherine Kosa, food and nutrition policy researcher at RTI International and lead author of the study. "Pathogens, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, may be present on raw poultry. Using a food thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure food is cooked to a safe internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria that may present. USDA recommends that consumers cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F."

Other food safety lapses uncovered in the study included rinsing or washing raw poultry before cooking. Nearly 70 percent of consumers reported washing raw poultry in the kitchen sink, which is a potentially unsafe practice because splattering water may contaminate other foods or kitchen surfaces.

Researchers also found that only 18 percent of participants correctly store raw poultry in the refrigerator, while only 11 percent of consumers correctly thaw raw poultry in water.

Researchers intend to use survey findings to develop consumer-focused science-based education materials such as an interactive website, game and mobile application and educational curriculum. RTI, Tennessee State Univ. and Kansas State Univ. conducted the study.
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