In the frame of SafeConsume project, researchers presented a paradoxical behavior of Hungarian consumers. The results indicate that the more conscious the consumers are of microbiological hazards, the more likely they are to wash their poultry as they consider washing as a necessary cleaning step to remove contamination. The problem with washing the meat is that the microbes cannot be removed efficiently, while as a result of cross-contamination, the pathogens can stick to the surface of the sink and the surrounding countertop.

Handwashing versus chicken washing

The researchers noticed a discrepancy between handwashing practices when consumers were asked to report their own behavior (as measured in a quantitative survey) and when they were observed during meal preparation (as done in an in-home behavior observation study). On the other hand, in the case of washing raw chicken meat, the results from the report and the observation were congruent. Consumers considered that washing raw meat improves food safety, not knowing that most of the bacterial contamination can be killed by heat treatment.

“The main difference between the two bad hygiene practices is that in the case of handwashing, consumers are aware of the need for proper handwashing but do not accomplish it. In the case of washing chicken, consumers do what they believe to be correct but is not.”

Consumers at risk

Based on the information from the nationally representative survey, Hungarian consumers were categorized into five different groups according to their chicken washing habits. There was only one small cluster (representing 12% of the net sample) that did not habitually wash their poultry meat before meal preparation. Consequently, the other four groups – the majority of the respondents – put themselves at risk from cross-contamination caused by raw poultry meat.

For safe handling of raw meat, the next 6 practices can be recommended:

  1. Raw poultry meat should be stored at 0-4°C, separately from other products so that it does not come into contact with other foods in the refrigerator.
  2. Instead of washing the raw meat, use a paper towel to get rid of the meat juice.
  3. Use separate cutting boards and knives for raw meat, vegetables and ready-to-eat meals.
  4. To avoid cross-contamination during cooking, deal with the preparation of vegetables and other foodstuffs before raw meat.
  5. Always wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw meat.
  6. In order to cook the meat thoroughly and for a sufficient amount of time, the inside of the meat must also reach a temperature of at least 75°C for 2 minutes. Larger pieces should be cut into smaller parts to ensure that the meat receives adequate heat treatment.

The whole study is available at: