NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Does Your Kitchen Make You Sick?

April 15, 2004

Your kitchen could be a dangerous breeding ground for illness-causing bacteria, according to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

  • Approximately 76 million illnesses per year are caused by food-borne bacteria, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.
  • Inappropriate food-handling by consumers at home account for 25 percent of cases.

Dietician Janet Anderson of Utah State University and her study coauthors selected 92 women and 7 men in home kitchens to observe the procedures they used in preparing a beef, chicken or fish entrée with a fresh vegetable salad. The results were sickening:

  • The average hand-washing by participants was less than the recommended 20-seconds or more; only one-third of subjects used soap.
  • Only one-third of kitchen surfaces were thoroughly cleaned, and an additional one-third of subjects did not clean kitchen counters at all during food preparation -- creating an environment for cross-contamination of vegetables from raw meat.
  • Many of the participants undercooked the entrees, and few used a meat thermometer to check for appropriate doneness.

New York Times writer Jane Brody recommends following safe-handling procedures of which include washing hands for at least 20 seconds (with soap and hot water) before and after handling food, using paper towels instead of sponges to clean surfaces, and using a bleach solution to clean counters.

Brody also encourages consumers to purchase meat thermometers to ensure meats are cooked to the appropriate temperatures, and cover and refrigerate any leftovers immediately.

Source: Jane E. Brody, "A Recipe for Disaster on Your Kitchen Counter," New York Times, April 13, 2004; Janet B. Anderson, et al., "A Camera's View of Consumer Food Handling Behaviors," Journal of the American Dietetic Association, February 2004.


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