While many consumers are aware of the risks of eating undercooked poultry, fewer realize that the steps they’re taking when handling poultry in the grocery store and at home could put them at risk for foodborne illness.
Just in time for summer grilling season, the Partnership for Food Safety Education has launched “Don’t Wing It!”, a campaign for safe poultry handling.
The “Don’t Wing It!” campaign is important because contaminated food sickens nearly 48 million people in the United States every year– that’s 1 in 6 people who get sick annually from something they ate. Chicken is the food category responsible for the second-largest number of foodborne illnesses.
The two germs of most concern with raw poultry are Salmonella and Campylobacter. Salmonella is commonly associated with raw poultry and causes about one million foodborne illnesses in the United States each year, with 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.
Campylobacter is less common but more potent. Even one drop of raw poultry juice could contain enough Campylobacter bacteria to cause illness.
Some groups, such as preschoolers and senior citizens, are more susceptible to the dangers of food contaminated with bacteria. Children under age four are five-times more likely to get sick from germs that cause foodborne illness because their immune systems are less developed and less able to fight infection. After the age of 75, many adults have weakened immune systems, increasing the risk of contracting foodborne illness from germs like
Salmonella and Campylobacter. Those with chronic illnesses are also at an increased risk of foodborne infection.
Foodborne illness usually causes nausea and diarrhea, but in some cases it can lead to kidney failure or other chronic long-term health problems. It’s essential that parents and seniors pay close attention to proper food handling and hand washing when preparing poultry.
The new “Don’tWing It!” food safety campaign is based on consumer food handling research done at Kansas State University and Tennessee State University. The studies showed that consumers were taking actions at the grocery store and at home that increased their risk of foodborne illness from raw poultry. Based on this research, the Partnership for Food Safety Education created these important and easy-to-follow steps for handling poultry safely:
DON’T TOUCH – AT THE STORE
1. Disinfect Your Shopping Cart Handle. Use disinfectant wipes on surfaces, especially handlebar and child seat. Consumer research showed that 85% of shoppers touched the cart handle directly after handling raw poultry packages, and nearly half of those tested positive for poultry juice on their hands when they touched the cart.
2. Place Poultry in Plastic Bag. Use plastic bags provided at meat counter to help avoid cross-contamination of the cart surfaces or other groceries in the cart. Why: 23% of chicken packages had high bacteria counts; 7% had dangerous campylobacter. Tip– cover your hand with a plastic grocery bag when grabbing raw poultry from the meat case.
3. Use Hand Sanitizer. Use hand sanitizer after touching raw and packaged poultry if soap and water are not available. Not all stores provide hand sanitizer in the meat department, so plan to bring your own if you are shopping for raw poultry.
DON’T TOUCH – AT HOME
1. Place in the Fridge or Freezer. Keep poultry in plastic bag and place on a plate on a low shelf to prevent leakage from contaminating other foods. Consumer studies revealed that more than half of shoppers stored poultry without the plastic bag. This common behavior could potentially contaminate any surface poultry touches in the home. Why: bacteria can live for days to weeks on refrigerator surfaces that are contaminated with poultry juice.
2. Wash Hands Before and after Handling Poultry. Use warm water and soap to clean hands and surfaces that have potentially come in contact with raw poultry or its juices. In the studies for “Don’t Wing It!”, 90% of consumers were observed to cross-contaminate surfaces and foods during meal preparation.
1. Thaw in the Fridge. Bacteria grow best at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees. Keep poultry at or below 40 F when thawing.
2. Use a Food Thermometer. Cook poultry to a safe temperature of 165 degrees to kill harmful bacteria. Although this is common advice, research shows consumers are not following it well. In a nationwide survey, only 57% of consumers reported using a food thermometer for whole chickens; only 12—26% used one for smaller chicken pieces, patties or chicken sausages.
THINK BEFORE YOU RINSE
Rinsing poultry is not a food safety step and it actually increases the chances of cross contamination by splattering raw juices on your sink, faucets, counters and any utensils and food in the sink area. Remember, cooking to 165 degrees is the ONLY way to kill bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.
So, as you plan to grill, barbecue or fry chicken for summer festivities, don’t wing it. Keep these food safety tips in mind, especially if you have young children, seniors or those already ill at your meal.
You can find more information, including brochures for parents and seniors and food-safe consumer recipes at http://www.fightbac.org/food-safety-education/dont-wing-it/.
Linda K. Beech is Ellis County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences.