Consumer Food Handling Practices Lead to Cross-contamination

Jeannie Sneed, Randall Phebus, Diane Duncan-Goldsmith, Donka Milke, Kevin Sauer, Kevin R. Roberts, Dallas Johnson Biblographic citation: Food Protection Trends, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 36-46, Jan 2015 Volume 35, Issue 1: Pages 36–46

Consumers engage in food handling practices that can contribute to foodborne illness, and there is interest in improving those behaviors. The purpose of this study was to determine the impact of the “Food Safe Families” clean and separate messages on cross-contamination behaviors of consumers and to determine the impact of external safe food handling cues. Participants (n = 123) were randomly assigned to a control group or to one of two experimental groups (traditional food safety messages or Ad Council public service announcements). Experimental groups were given a defined educational intervention; then all three groups were videotaped preparing a meal with raw chicken or ground beef (inoculated with Lactobacillus casei) and a ready-to-eat fruit salad. About 90% of salads were contaminated and 24% were highly contaminated, although levels were lower for the food safety messages group. Handwashing scores were lower for the control group than for the other groups. Cloth towels were the most contaminated contact surface, and towels were frequently handled by participants. A slight positive impact relative to the level of cross-contamination observed was associated with the use of external cues. Cell phone use was observed in the kitchen and should be studied as a source of cross-contamination. An educational intervention had a small impact on some measures, but most participants in all groups used procedures that resulted in cross-contamination.

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