Many Americans Engage in Unsanitary Cooking Practices, Survey Finds

As millions of Americans dust off their cookbooks and browse recipe websites to prepare festive holiday meals, a new survey reveals that 1 in 3 Americans is concerned about getting food poisoning due to someone else’s poor kitchen hygiene. The survey found that concern is warranted, as many home cooks engage in bad hygiene and food safety practices.

The survey conducted by the Water Quality & Health Council found:

  • Most Americans (62%) rinse raw turkey in the kitchen sink, a practice experts say could splatter germs up to three feet, contaminating nearby kitchen surfaces.
  • 26% admit to not washing their hands during food preparation (only before or after) – which experts say could cause cross-contamination and introduce dangerous foodborne pathogens, like E. coli and Salmonella, to holiday meals.
  • 38% use nothing more than soap and water to sanitize kitchen surfaces between steps while cooking their holiday dinner. According to public health experts, that’s a big problem that could lead to cross-contamination and make dinner guests susceptible to foodborne illness.
  • 55% don’t know that the refrigerator’s bottom shelf is the safest place to store a raw turkey. When a raw turkey is placed on a higher shelf, bacteria-laden juices can drip onto food stored lower down.

These practices may in part explain why nearly 1 in 4 Americans (22%) reports having previously gotten food poisoning from a holiday meal.

In response to these unsettling findings, the Water Quality & Health Council is launching the Plate It Safe campaign to educate home cooks and bakers on how to safely prepare recipes, especially as the holiday cooking season nears.

“Most recipes are written in a way that assumes that home cooks know how to safely handle raw products, including produce, poultry, fish, and meat – but research has proven that many aren’t savvy about food safety. That’s what led us to launch the Plate It Safe campaign for this holiday season,” said Linda F. Golodner, president emeritus of the National Consumers League and vice-chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.

Another significant health risk comes after the feast is over. Among those Americans who had turkey last Thanksgiving, more than 1 in 4 (26%) left the bird out for three or more hours before they put away the leftovers. Experts say unsafe bacteria starts to grow on cooked poultry two hours after it’s finished cooking.

So then vegetarians don’t have to worry about cross-contamination, right? Wrong. The survey revealed that 21% of Americans rarely or never sanitize worktops and cutting boards after handling raw fruits or vegetables. That’s especially concerning as fruits and vegetables are the most-recalled food products – a fact that most people who responded to the survey (71%) didn’t know.

Through the Plate It Safe campaign, the Water Quality & Health Council is teaming up with food influencers and cooks who share recipes ranging from keto to plant-based dishes. Each food publisher has been provided a toolkit that includes expert safety tips based on the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s Safe Recipe Style Guide standards, along with icons for each food safety step to include in their recipes.

“Recipes found on our favorite sites, magazines, and social media rarely include basic food preparation tips, like when to wash your hands, how to properly clean fruits and vegetables, or how to safely store or wash raw food,” said Edgar Chambers IV, Ph.D., consumer behavior expert at Kansas State University. “Research has shown that simple modifications to recipes, such as including the Safe Recipe Style Guide icons, greatly improves food safety practices.”

The Water Quality & Health Council has compiled a list of holiday recipes that include food safety tips from popular food influencers and publishers who have joined the Plate It Safe campaign.

“The Water Quality & Health Council’s ultimate goal through Plate it Safe is that everyone will begin to cook with an awareness of basic food safety that can ensure their well-being, as well as that of the guests they serve this holiday season,” said Chris J. Wiant, Ph.D., chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.

Methodology: The 2019 Plate It Safe survey was conducted by the Water Quality & Health Council, an independent, multidisciplinary group of scientific experts, health professionals, and consumer advocates that is sponsored by the American Chemistry Council’s Chlorine Chemistry Division. The survey interviewed 3,038 American adults online on October 4-6, 2019, with the intent to measure perceptions and behaviors related to food safety and cooking/baking activities during the holiday season. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 2.7% at the 95% confidence level and is nationally representative of American adults in terms of age, gender, region, parental status, and income.