The recently released findings of a five-year study on consumer meal preparation practices by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA’s FSIS) has highlighted the importance of National Food Safety Education Month. The study observed food safety behaviors, including participants’ thermometer use for ground pork sausage, handwashing, and cleaning and sanitizing of food preparation surfaces.

The studies are intended to help USDA better understand consumer behaviors in the kitchen to design communications that help constituents more safely prepare food.

Handwashing was the most significant concern, with only 44 percent of participants being observed washing their hands before meal preparation. Additionally, handwashing was not attempted 83 percent of the time when it should have been done (e.g., touching raw sausage and unwashed cantaloupe, cracking eggs, contaminated equipment or surfaces). Throughout the study, 96 percent of handwashing attempts did not contain all necessary steps.

Regarding thermometer use, only 50 percent of participants checked the doneness of sausage patties using the thermometer, and only 50 percent of those participants checked the internal temperature of every patty. The study also injected a harmless tracer bacteria into the sausage to simulate cross-contamination in the kitchen, finding 34 percent of participants contaminated the kitchen during meal prep. Additionally, 26 percent of participants introduced contamination when cutting cantaloupe during meal prep.