Bad food safety reporting II: inconsistent and uncertain edition

NSF International issued the results of a survey involving 1,000 Americans that found consumers were inconsistent and uncertain about some food safety practices in the home.

That’s because food safety advice is inconsistent and uncertain. That’s normal. Food safety isn’t simple.

But this particular press release is inconsistent and uncertain within the press release.

The press release trumpeting the results states:

• Most Rewash Pre-Packaged Foods: Over half (60%) of consumers surveyed always re-wash pre-packaged fruits and vegetables (such as ready-to-eat salads), but it’s not necessary. Prepackage produce that is labeled as prewashed in a sealed container does not need to be rewashed.

The same press release subsequently states:

* Rewash Pre-packaged Foods: Consumers should always rewash pre-packaged produce that is in an open package or does not specifically state it is prewashed. Rewashing all pre-packaged produce is an additional precaution consumers can take to reduce the likelihood of consuming food contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Scientists have said the re-washing process is more likely to cross-contaminate the pre-washed greens with whatever crap was previously in a sink. The paper is in Food Protection Trends and available here.

The NSF study about inconsistent and incertain practices also contains a couple of other nosestretchers.

* Consumers Can Get Lazy When it Comes to Safe Hand Washing Practices: While 90% of consumers wash their hands after handling raw meat or poultry, a fifth (20%) of consumers aren’t using warm water and soap – which is considered the most effective combination when it comes to reducing exposure to bacteria that causes foodborne illness. Warm water may be helpful in removing grease and grime, it’s unnecessary for removing dangerous microorganisms. And 10 seconds is microbiologically sufficient.

“For example, consumers are taking great caution in the initial food preparation stages, as 78% of respondents knew the right way to defrost meat and poultry safely (such as defrosting in a refrigerator), but only 20% of them bother to use a meat thermometer to ensure food is properly cooked.”

Self-reported surveys of food safety practices are meaningless. Nowhere near 20 per cent of Americans use thermometers; it’s less than 1 per cent.