Study Finds Less than Half of Adults Wash Their Hands after Handling Eggs
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Study Finds Less than Half of Adults Wash Their Hands after Handling Eggs

August 10, 2015

Did you have eggs for breakfast? Did you wash your hands after cracking them? If you didn't, you're in good company.

A study conducted by Research Triangle Park-based RTI International, Tennessee State University and Kansas State University found that only 48 percent of adults wash their hands with soap and water after cracking eggs.

The vast majority of consumers avoid eating foods made with raw eggs and wash their hands after handling raw chicken, but the study found that 25 percent of consumers still indulge in homemade cookie dough or cake batter that includes raw eggs.

Despite consumers being more aware of putting undercooked eggs into their mouths, the same can't be said for proper handling, which can still lead to salmonella.

"Improper handling and consumption of raw eggs can increase the risk of salmonellosis, a type of foodborne illness," Katherine Kosa, food and nutrition policy researcher at RTI and lead author, said in a press release. "Therefore, it is important for people to wash hands and surfaces often when handling raw eggs and that they cook eggs to the proper temperature."

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems are the most at risk of contracting salmonella.

The study also found that more than half of consumers who eat fried or poached eggs love undercooked whites and runny yolks. To eliminate the risk of contracting salmonella, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends cooking your eggs well done with firm whites and yolks.

RTI says that findings from this study, along with others, will support the development of science-based consumer education materials including an interactive website, game and smart phone app, and educational curriculum.

Backyard Chickens Also Pose Salmonella Risk

Eggs from your backyard flock should also be handled with care.

As the popularity of backyard hens has skyrocketed so has the instances of salmonella infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that between 1991 and 2012 live poultry caused 45 outbreaks of salmonella, encompassing more than 1,500 cases of illness and five deaths.

In 2012, nearly 200 people in 27 states became ill with salmonella, many of which ordered chicks from a mail-order hatchery in Ohio.

In general, though, CEO Traci Torres, told CBS News that backyard hens that are kept clean and healthy are less likely to carry salmonella than commercial flocks, but insists that all animals, dogs and cats included, carry the bacteria in their stomachs.

As of July, nearly 220 people in 41 states came down with salmonella infections. Of those 50 people had to be hospitalized. The CDC says that many of these people reported bringing baby chicks into their homes, or reported cuddling or kissing their chicks.

Like the CDC, Torres tells chicken owners to wash their hands after handling their chickens and to avoid kissing and cuddling them. No matter how domesticated, chickens should be outdoor pets and shouldn't roam freely in one's kitchen or living room.

The CDC offers the following tips to keep your family safe from salmonella:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
  • Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
  • Wash hands after removing soiled clothes and shoes.
  • If you collect eggs from the hens, thoroughly cook them, as salmonella can pass from healthy looking hens into the interior of normal looking eggs.
  • Clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers.
  • If you have free-roaming live poultry, assume where they live and roam is contaminated.
  • Don't let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
  • Don't eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
  • Don't let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.