When preparing frozen foods, adolescents are less likely than adults to wash their hands and are more susceptible to cross-contaminating raw foods while cooking, according to a Kansas State University study.
"While half of the adults we observed washed their hands after touching raw chicken, none of the adolescents did," said Casey Jacob, a food safety research assistant at Kansas State. "The nonexistent hand-washing rate, combined with certain age-specific behaviors like hair flipping and scratching in a variety of areas, could lead directly to instances of cross-contamination compared to the adults."
Food safety isn't simple, and consumers rarely follow instructions for safe handling of frozen chicken entrees or strips, said Doug Powell, Kansas State associate professor of food safety who led the study.
As the number and type of convenience meal solutions increase — check out the frozen food section of a local supermarket — the researchers found a need to understand how both adults and adolescents are preparing these products and what can be done to enhance the safety of frozen foods.
In 2007, Kansas State researchers developed a novel video capture system to observe the food preparation practices of 41 consumers — 21 primary meal preparers and 20 adolescents — in a mock domestic kitchen using frozen, uncooked, commercially available breaded chicken products. The researchers wanted to determine actual food-handling behavior of these two groups in relation to safe food handling practices and instructions provided on product labels. Self-report surveys were used to determine whether differences exist between consumers' reported food handling practices and observed behavior.
The research appeared in the November 2009 issue of the British Food Journal.
Beyond the discrepancy between adult and adolescent food safety practices, the researchers also found that, even when provided with instructions, food preparers don't follow them. They may not have even seen them or they assume they know what to do.
"Our results suggest that while labels might contain correct risk-reduction steps, food manufacturers have to make that information as compelling as possible or it will be ignored," Chapman said.
The researchers also found that observation with discreet video recording is far more accurate than self-reported surveys. For example, although almost all of the primary meal preparers reported washing hands after every instance in which they touched raw poultry, only half were observed washing hands correctly after handling chicken products in the study.