American Consumers Practice Inconsistent Food-Safety Behaviors

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If you’re like me, you pay close attention to reports of foodborne illnesses, including salmonella, listeria and E. coli outbreaks. You also check your refrigerator and pantry for recalled foods

But according to a recent survey, American consumers continue to make basic food-safety errors at home. We’re doing either too much or too little, say researchers from Ann Arbor, MI-based NSF International, a nonprofit public health and safety organization. 

“Food safety is everyone’s responsibility, and consumers need to put added attention around food-safety practices in the home,” says NSF home safety expert Cheryl Luptowski. “Learning, understanding and changing food-safety behavior through simple everyday practices will make a substantial difference in reducing the incidence of foodborne illness in America.” 

Are you guilty of the following behaviors?

Lazy about handwashing?

While 90% of us wash our hands after handling raw meat or poultry, 20% aren’t using warm water and soap—the most effective combination for reducing exposure to the bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

Let’s review the basics:

  • Wash hands withsoap and warm water before cooking and/or after handling raw meat and poultry. Warm water is more effective at removing grease and grime because it increases soap's ability to penetrate dirt and oils found on the skin.
  • Lather your hands for the recommended 20 seconds before rinsing off the soap. This is best achieved by sing “Happy Birthday” twice when washing your hands.

Screwing up in the leftover department? 

We are serious food wasters. Many of us are overly cautious when discarding leftover food, largely because we don’t understand expiration dates

About 40% of us fail to save any leftovers or throw them out within 1 or 2 days. In reality, properly stored leftovers can likely be saved for up to 3 or 4 days. Dispose of them thereafter. 

If you don’t plan to consume leftovers right away, freeze them.

Blowing off the food thermometer?


Only 20% of us use a meat and poultry thermometer to ensure proteins are properly cooked.

Always use a food thermometer to ensure meat and poultry are safe to eat. Using your senses—sight, smell and taste—is an unreliable way to gauge whether meat and poultry are cooked to the proper temperature.

Forget the 2-hour rule?

Nevereat foods (like party platters or picnic/potluck dishes) that have been left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

Photos: Component Design, JAR

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