Despite being one of the first hygienic habits we learn, hardly anyone is washing their hands properly before meals, according to a new study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The percentage is appalling: 97 percent of people failed to properly clean their hands in the collaborative study by the USDA, RTI International and N.C. State University.
That leaves the door open for bacteria being spread throughout the kitchen, and for food-borne illness.
“As a mother of three young children, I am very familiar with the mad dash families go through to put dinner on the table,” said Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy for food safety at USDA. “You can’t see, smell or feel bacteria. By simply washing your hands properly, you can protect your family and prevent that bacteria from contaminating your food and key areas in your kitchen.”
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People are failing at basic measures, not washing their hands for 20 seconds as recommended, and not drying their hands with clean towels, the study says.
Study participants then finished off the dirty deed of spreading bacteria from raw meat in a test kitchen.
Nearly half of the subjects preparing burgers contaminated spice containers. Some of the blame was attributed to only 34 percent of people using thermometers to ensure the burgers were thoroughly cooked, and half of those who did are still not cooking the burgers to a safe internal temperature.
People also spread bacteria to refrigerator handles 11 percent of the time, and to salads 5 percent of the time.
Health officials recommend the following temperatures for safely grilling meats:
▪ 145 degrees for beef, pork, fish, lamb and veal
▪ 160 degrees for hamburgers and other ground meats
▪ 165 degrees for poultry and pre-cooked items like hot dogs
The USDA estimates 48 million Americans become sick each year from food-borne illnesses, resulting in about 128,000 trips to the hospital and 3,000 deaths.