WASHINGTON – A new study reveals consumers may be playing chicken with foodborne illnesses, the National Chicken Council reported.

Researchers at the Univ. of California - Davis found that many consumers do not follow recommended food-safety practices while preparing meals at home. The most common risky behaviors in the home kitchen involve cross-contamination and undercooking chicken, according to the study.

"This study is a clear reminder that we all need to be working together to remind consumers about proper handling and cooking of raw chicken in a manner that prevent undercooking and prevents the possibility of bacteria spreading to other foods and food contact surfaces in the kitchen," said Tom Super, NCC spokesman.

"It is always important to consistently follow safe food handling and cooking practices because all raw agricultural products – whether its produce, fruit, meat or poultry — could contain naturally occurring bacteria that might make someone sick. But, there are steps people can take in the home to significantly reduce their risk," he added.

The study featured video footage of 120 participants preparing a chicken dish and salad of their choice in their home kitchens. The participants had prior experience preparing chicken with 85 percent of participants serving chicken weekly and 84 percent reporting being knowledgeable about food safety. Another 48 percent indicated they had received formal food safety training.

However, the footage highlighted several issues:

• Sixty-five percent of participants did not wash their hands before starting meal preparation and 38 percent did not wash their hands after touching raw chicken.

• Only 10 percent of participants washed their hands for the recommended 20 seconds and about one-third of the washing occasions used water only, without soap.

• Nearly 50 percent of participants were observed washing their chicken in the sink before preparation. This practice is not recommended because it can spread bacteria over multiple surfaces in the kitchen.

Researchers also found the participants did not properly cook their chicken dish with 40 percent of participants undercooking their chicken regardless of preparation method. Only 29 percent knew the correct US Dept. of Agriculture recommended temperature of 165°F, according to the study.

Additionally, cooking thermometers were not widely used, with only 48 percent of participants owning a thermometer. Sixty-nine percent of those with thermometers said they seldom used it to ensure that chicken is completely cooked. No participants reported calibrating their thermometers to ensure accuracy.

"The most surprising aspect of these findings to me was the prevalence of undercooking," said Christine Bruhn, director of the Center for Consumer research at UC Davis, who authored the study. "We are now in summer, the peak season for foodborne illness, and these results come at a time when more consumers can benefit from being aware of better food safety practices. Even tips usually considered basic, like washing hands with soap and water before and after handling raw poultry, and never rinsing raw poultry in the sink, still need to be emphasized for a safer experience."