year, one in four Americans gets sick from the food they eat. That
adds up to 76 million people. About 325,000 end up in the hospital,
and 5,000 die.
is cited as one of the leading causes of foodborne illnesses. While
an increasing number of people are aware that undercooked food,
particularly ground beef, is risky, most rely on internal meat color
to judge doneness rather than food thermometers.
scientists at Washington State University have demonstrated that
color cannot be trusted. "One out of four hamburger patties turns
brown before it is completely cooked," said Val Hillers, WSU Extension
Foods Specialist. "And, some are done before they turn brown."
part of a national project underwritten by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, Hillers and colleagues at WSU and the University of
Idaho have developed an educational campaign to encourage greater
use of food thermometers.
most important reason to use a food thermometer is to assure that
all germs in meats are killed," Hillers said. "A secondary reason
is to ensure that meats are not overcooked."
with results from the WSU research, which also determined the best
methods to cook hamburgers, the project team developed a video,
flyers, and other educational materials to help schoolteachers and
extension educators convey their food safety message.
the educational materials have been embraced by teachers, reaction
from the general public has been puzzling. A random survey sent
last year to 2,500 people in Washington and Idaho found that less
than 3 percent of the people who returned the survey were using
a food thermometer to test the temperature of small cuts of meat.
educational materials—a flyer, pamphlet, recipe cards, and video
were sent to all 800 people who returned a completed survey.
questionnaire was mailed six weeks later to gauge reaction and
find out if people were using food thermometers.
got back about 250 filled-in questionnaires and about 40 percent
of these people are now using a thermometer on meats such as hamburgers
and chicken breasts," Hillers said. "But, about 70 people returned
the questionnaires without filling them in and also returned the
dollar that had been enclosed with it. Some penned notes saying
they weren't interested. Others wrote that thermometers were unreliable.
Thermometers? I was very surprised.
we assume that the people who sent back an empty questionnaire and
the people who didn't send it back are not using a thermometer,
then about 12 percent of the people who received the materials are
not following our suggestion. We expected a somewhat higher adoption
rate. However, this part of the study confirms our theory that behavior
change occurs in stages.
safety education is a mix of old and new messages. We continue to
remind people to wash their hands before handling food. That's an
old message, but it is just as relevant today as ever. People now
need to work food thermometers into their kitchen routine. They
will, but it will take time because it's a lot of work for people
to change a routine behavior."