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USDA: Emphasize food safety during holiday

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

A new USDA study shows handwashing before meals is a major contributor for cross-contamination of food and foodborne illness. Research shows consumers fail to properly wash their hands 97 percent of the time, which makes people sick. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates nearly 48 million Americans are sickened as a result of foodborne illness every year. Nearly 3,000 people die from foodborne illnesses, and over 128,000 are hospitalized. 

“Children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk,” USDA comments, also noting several easy steps can be taken to help prevent foodborne illnesses.


“As a mother of three young children, I am very familiar with the mad dash families go through to put dinner on the table,” says Carmen Rottenberg, Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA. “By simply washing our hands properly, we can protect our family and prevent that bacteria from contaminating our food and key areas in our kitchen.”

A great place to start combatting foodborne illness is for consumers to properly wash their hands while cooking and before eating.

“Most consumers fail to wash their hands for the necessary 20 seconds, and numerous participants did not dry their hands with a clean towel,” Rottenberg comments. “Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling raw meat, poultry or eggs, in particular.” 


The study also showed that only 34 percent of Americans used a food thermometer to ensure burgers are properly cooked, and of those who did use a food thermometer, nearly half still did not cook burgers to the safe minimal internal temperature.

“With grilling season upon us, USDA reminds consumers to use a food thermometer and cook meat and poultry products to the recommended safe internal temperatures,” Rottenberg says.

To properly determine the temperature of meat, Rottenberg says a thermometer should be inserted through the side of the patty until it reaches the center. Beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit; ground meat should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees, and poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees. 

Cross contamination

A third culprit of foodborne illness comes in cross-contamination of raw poultry onto other surfaces. 

USDA’s study utilized a test kitchen, where participants spread bacteria through spice containers, refrigerator handles and tainted salads.

Contaminated spice containers that are handled while preparing burgers spread bacteria 48 percent of the time, and 11 percent of the time participants spread bacteria to refrigerator handles. 

Taking these simple steps can reduce the incidence of illness because, Rottenberg says, “We can’t see, smell or feel bacteria.”

Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from USDA resources. Send comments to

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