Safe Food Handling Optimizes Family Nutrition

By Andress, Elizabeth L. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Safe Food Handling Optimizes Family Nutrition

Andress, Elizabeth L., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


The health implications for food and nutrition are well accepted and recognized. Safe food handling is also part of the nutrition and health continuum. Recent surveys point out the sometimes significant gaps between consumer practices and recommended behaviors for minimizing risks. In addition, changes in the food-borne pathogen population, lifestyle trends, the global marketplace, and new vehicles of transmission for food-borne diseases are creating challenges to our traditional practices and knowledge of food handling. Opportunities for the family and consumer sciences profession to make a difference in preventing disease are abundant.


Nutritional content of a food is of no value if the food is not handled properly. Knowledge of food composition and factors influencing food safety has never been greater in our society. Yet, choices about our food and diets remain closely tied to tradition, personal preferences, values, and marketing persuasions. Consumers are making their concerns and interests in food safety known, yet research finds that many Americans today still lack knowledge about basic sanitation and prevention of foodborne illness (Altekruse, Street, Fein, & Levy, 1996; Institute of Food Technologists' Expert Panel, 1995; Klontz, Timbo, Fein, & Levy, 1995; The Partnership for Food Safety Education, 1997; Williamson, Gravani, & Lawless, 1992).

Several studies point to the common, but hazardous, mistakes of improperly cooling foods, poor hand-washing practices, and cross-contaminating practices with raw meat and poultry products. Williamson et al. (1992) found that 29% of consumers would let a roasted chicken breast sit on the counter until it reached room temperature before refrigerating it. Only 32% in their sample would use a shallow container to store leftover stew; 14% would store it in the cooking pot, and 54% would use a deep container. Altekruse et al. (1996) reported the results of a national telephone survey of over 1,600 Englishspeaking households for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). One third of meal preparers reported unsafe sanitation practices such as failure to wash hands or take precautions to prevent cross-contamination from raw meat.

In this FDA survey, some indication is found that awareness and knowledge influences safe food handling. Respondents who could identify a food vehicle for Salmonella were more likely to report washing hands and cleaning cutting boards after preparing raw meat and poultry. However, one fourth of all respondents reported they would not clean a cutting board after cutting raw meat or chicken before using it again. The percent of food preparers who do not know they should wash cutting boards with soap and water between fresh meat and fresh vegetables has been higher in another survey (Williamson et al., 1992).

Other risky practices continue to be prevalent in our society. In the FDA survey, respondents also reported eating raw animal food products, such as raw eggs (53%), undercooked hamburgers (23%), raw clams or oysters (17%), and raw sushi or ceviche (8%) (lontz et al., 1995). Responses to food-safety questions asked by Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Systems (BRFSS) surveys (1995, 1996) in selected states also revealed eating of undercooked eggs (50%) and hamburgers (19.7%) (Yang et al., 1998). Almost 19% did not wash hands after handling raw meat or chicken. There were gender, age, and race differences for some practices. The Food Marketing Institute (1998) has also reported gender differences in food safety practices.

Despite heavy media coverage of foodsafety issues and advice in the past few years, the knowledge gap about recommended practices may still be a great barrier to decreasing the incidence of disease. Recent public opinion polls indicate that Americans may be unaware of the hazards in their practices and ma underestimate the potential for food-borne illness from home practices.

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