Surveys still suck.
Using I-own-a-thermometer as an indicator of thermometer use is as useful as I-own-a-sink therefore I wash my hands. Or, I own a toilet, so I always hit the bowl. Or … use your imagination.
Researchers at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration report in the Journal of Food Protection that the use of a food thermometer is the best way to ensure that meat, poultry, and other foods reach an internal temperature sufficient to destroy foodborne pathogens.
The 1998, 2001, 2006, and 2010 Food Safety Surveys were used to analyze changes in food thermometer ownership and usage for roasts, chicken parts, and hamburgers in the United States.
But surveys still suck.
The paper notes that when E. coli O157:H7 was first associated with ground beef in the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommended that consumers cook hamburgers until the meat was ‘‘brown or pinkish brown in the center. However, as a result of research that showed that one out of four hamburgers may be brown in the center before reaching a safe internal temperature, the USDA changed its advice to consumers— instead of using color as an indicator of doneness in hamburgers, consumers should use a food thermometer to ensure that a safe temperature has been reached. In May 2000, the USDA launched the Thermy educational campaign to encourage consumers to use a food thermometer when cooking small cuts of meat, such as hamburgers and chicken parts. The USDA also provided guidance to consumers about the safe temperature for various cuts of meat and poultry.
Ho Phang and Christine Bruhn reported earlier in JFP that in video observation of 199 California consumers making hamburgers and salad in their own kitchens, handwashing was poor, only 4% used a thermometer to check if the burger was safely cooked, and there were an average of 43 cross-contamination events per household. They concluded Thermy had not been successful.
We did our own survey with 40 people brought in to cook a chicken meal in a Kansas State kitchen and videotaped their behaviors. Many participants reported owning a food thermometer (73%) and nearly half (42.5%) of participants reported knowing the suggested end temperature for cooking poultry to ensure doneness. When asked the final recommended internal temperature for chicken, the mean response was 214°F with a range of responses from 140°F to 450°F. (The correct answer is 165F)
Of those participants observed measuring the internal temperature of the product, only three used the thermometer correctly. During observation, two individuals who used the thermometers failed to remove protective casings prior to taking internal temperature readings, and therefore used the instruments incorrectly.
Surveys do not measure behaviors: they give an indication of what people think their behavior is, or what the survey person wants to hear, but that isn’t going to get people to use a thermometer (tip-sensitive, digital).