If you pick up a package of chicken breasts or thighs at the grocery, you are very likely spreading poultry juices around the store, recent research found.
Kansas State University researcher Dr. Edgar Chambers, in a presentation about food safety practices at the recent International Association of Food Protection's conference, explained that few customers used plastic bags to carry raw meat or cleaned up with sanitizers offered by stores afterward, Food Safety News reported. As a result, poultry juices, which could harbor harmful bacteria, were spread around the store. Even when plastic bags were used, some of the poultry juices were still found, according to Food Safety News.
The shopping practices of nearly 100 shoppers from grocery stores in three U.S. cities were followed. About 85 percent of stores provided the bags, but less than 20 percent of people actually used them. As for the next few things that people touched after handling the packaged chicken, here's a breakdown from Food Safety News:
Cart (85 percent)
Dry goods (49 percent)
Other meat or poultry (33 percent)
Refrigerated goods (31 percent)
Personal item (grocery list, purse, etc.) or a child (31 percent)
Frozen goods (16 percent)
Fresh produce (9 percent)
Researchers swabbed the surfaces that were touched after the chicken and found "transfer does occur,” Chambers said during the presentation.
While customer practices after touching the chicken might be concerning, Chambers said he was pleased to see that 82 percent of cashiers at least put raw poultry in different bags.
“I was surprised,” he said, according to Food Safety News. “I was actually thrilled by that.”
Last year, Consumer Reports released the "troubling" results of its investigation that found 97 percent of raw chicken products it tested were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria. If the chicken is cooked properly these bacteria are not a major concern to public health, but it could become a problem when consumers are touching the packages and then going on to touch other items in stores.
Food Safety News reported that while the researchers did not test for bacterial spread in their study, they do think that type of contamination could occur.
Going forward, Chambers recommended stores make sure plastic bags and sanitizer are in the meat department; advise consumers to use such products after handling raw meat packages; and suggest that consumers continue to store the meat in plastic bags in their own fridge or freezer, Food Safety News reported.
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