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A recent poll by the American Meat Institute (AMI) has uncovered a troubling lack of knowledge among the public about meat and poultry handling, cooking and safety.
Only a third (34 percent) of Americans correctly answered that a hamburger is ready to eat when the internal temperature has reached 160 degrees Fahrenheit. One in five said that looking at the center of a hamburger to see whether it’s brown is the best method to check doneness -- a practice experts say isn’t an accurate indicator that a burger is thoroughly cooked. Likewise, 18 percent wrongly said that checking to see if juices run clear ensures the food has been cooked.
The poll, which surveyed 1,000 Americans in May, discovered that many misconceptions remain, especially in the preparation and storage raw meat and poultry products.
AMI’s survey found that men are much more likely than women to know how to identify when a hamburger is thoroughly cooked. While four in 10 (41 percent) men know that the internal temperature of a hamburger has to reach 160 degrees F before it can be eaten, just 26 percent of women knew this fact.
Overall, younger Americans were less knowledgeable about proper meat preparation than older consumers, according to the survey. For example, just 16 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds knew to check the internal temperature of a burger.
Additionally, consumers were uncertain about proper storage temperatures. Only 36 percent of women knew that refrigerators should be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Another one-third (33 percent) of women admitted that they don’t know what the correct temperature for a refrigerator should be.
Among members of Generation Y, only one-third (32 percent) of Americans age 18 to 29 knew that refrigerators should be set to 40 degrees F or below, vs. half (52 percent) of those age 30 and older.
The majority of respondents (62 percent) were also unaware that the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems should reheat deli meat and hot dogs to steaming before eating them.
Americans are divided over whether they believe meat and poultry products have more or fewer bacteria today than they did 10 years ago, the survey found. While 22 percent of Americans thought there are more bacteria on meat/poultry today than in the past, 26 percent believed that today’s meat/poultry has fewer bacteria. Two in 10 (22 percent) didn’t think bacteria levels have changed, and three in 10 (29 percent) said they didn’t know.
In reality, the government has steadily improved food safety, as evidenced by the decreasing incidences of pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. Proper cooking and reheating can destroy these types of bacteria.
“The good news is that meat and poultry products are safer than they have ever been, and this industry is committed to working harder to make our products even safer,” noted AMI president J. Patrick Boyle said. “Still, we all have a role to play -- from farm to table -- in ensuring the food is safe when served.”
Boyle added that his organization would continue to employ radio airwaves, Web sites like www.meatsafety.org, and YouTube and other social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, to provide consumers with accurate information on safe meat and poultry preparation. He also urged consumers follow the four basic food safety steps -- clean, separate, cook and chill -- and to pay close attention to the safe-handling labels included on meat and poultry products.