Branding & Toolkits | Food Safety and Inspection Service


FSIS contracted with RTI International (RTI) and its subcontractor, North Carolina State University (NCSU), to conduct consumer research over a five-year period, Fiscal Year 2017 through Fiscal Year 2022. The purpose of the study was to evaluate consumer food handling behaviors in a test kitchen. FSIS also partnered with RTI to survey consumers about their food safety practices and experiences with food recalls, foodborne illness, and FSIS food safety resources.

This communications plan includes results from the fourth iteration of the meal preparation study (2020-2021), which examined consumers grilling sausage and hamburgers on an indoor grill. Researchers also observed participants handling and storing uncooked ground beef and a ready-to-eat salad (bagged lettuce, carrots, and apples). The study measured consumers’ adherence to recommended food safety practices (such as using a food thermometer, handwashing, and preventing cross-contamination) between participants who received an educational intervention in their recipes and those who did not. The research team placed nonharmful tracer bacteria in the ground beef chubs and sausages prior to participant arrival. Thers tracked the spread of the nonharmful bacteria to measure the participants’ success in eliminating the risk of contamination.

In this study, the educational intervention explored the impact of including food safety instructions in recipes on participants’ food safety practices. Food safety information was formatted using the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s Safe Recipe Style Guide. It included instructions on washing hands (both at the beginning of cooking and after touching uncooked ground beef), using a food thermometer to check for doneness, cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and utensils after touching uncooked ground beef, and washing the apple and carrot by rubbing under cold water.

Talking Points

Remember Your Four Steps to Food Safety

Clean: Wash hands for 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat and poultry. Clean hands, surfaces and utensils with soap and warm water before cooking and after contact with raw meat and poultry. Do not wash meat or poultry as this can spread bacteria throughout your sink and kitchen. After cleaning surfaces that raw meat and poultry has touched, apply a commercial or homemade sanitizing solution (1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water). Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

  • This study (conducted from 2020-2021) found that handwashing is still being neglected. As in Years 1 through 3, few handwashing attempts included all steps necessary to be considered adequate as defined by CDC’s handwashing guidelines. Failure rates were very high: 97% for the control group, 95% for treatment group 1, and 100% for treatment group 2. The most documented reason was failing to rub hands with soap for 20 seconds.
  • Our study also found that 56% of participants did not attempt to wash their hands before preparing food.
    • Only 44% of participants in the control groups attempted to wash their hands. This is a stark drop in handwashing from our previous research observations.
    • Previous studies observed 71% of control group participants attempted to wash their hands in Year 3 and 74% in Year 2.

Separate: Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils to avoid cross-contamination between raw meat or poultry and foods that are ready to eat. When cooking and preparing multiple foods, it can be easy to spread bacteria throughout your kitchen.

  • This study showed that 32% of participants failed to thoroughly wash plates and cutting boards, which can lead to cross-contamination. Additionally, while preparing food, participants spread bacteria to the following locations:
    • 28 percent of the sink basins
    • 17 percent of the lettuce in salads they prepared

    • 12 percent of the spice containers they used during meal preparation

    • 8 percent of the cupboard handle

Cook: Confirm your meat and poultry products are cooked to a safe internal temperature by using a food thermometer.

Chill: Chill foods promptly if not consuming immediately after cooking. Do not leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours.

Cook Your Food to a Safe Internal Temperature

Use a food thermometer to ensure your meat and poultry products have reached a safe internal temperature. In our study, only 55% of the participants without food safety instructions used a food thermometer.

Always use a food thermometer when grilling outside. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill tend to brown quickly on the outside but may not be fully cooked on the inside. NEVER partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later. Color is never a reliable indicator of safety and doneness.

Cook raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts to 145 F. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming

  • Cook fish to 145 F
  • Cook raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal to 160 F
  • Cook egg dishes to 160 F
  • Cook raw poultry to 165 F

To correctly take the temperature of ground beef burgers and not miss cold spots, insert the food thermometer through the side of the patty in the thickest part, until the probe reaches the center. For ground beef burgers, the thermometer should read 160 F. Ground poultry burgers should read 165 F.

The only way to know your frozen product is safe to eat is by confirming that it has reached a safe internal temperature measured with a food thermometer. Frozen food is not finished cooking until it reaches the recommended internal temperature.

Avoid the Danger Zone

Food that is between the temperatures of 40 F and 140 F is in the Danger Zone and only has a limited time before it becomes a food safety risk.

Follow the two-hour rule: Foodborne illness-causing bacteria grows rapidly when food is left out at temperatures between 40 F and 140 F. Remember to refrigerate food within two hours, and within one hour if it’s a hot day (above 90 F) .

  • When serving food, it is important to remember to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
    • Keep cold foods at an internal temperature of 40 F or below by keeping food on ice or refrigerated until ready to serve.
    • Keep hot foods at an internal temperature of 140 F or above by placing food in a preheated oven, warming trays, chafing dishes or slow cookers

Dividing leftovers into smaller portions and refrigerating or freezing them in shallow containers helps leftovers cool quicker than storing them in large containers.

Social Media

Share Memorial Day food safety guidance with your followers and be sure to use the hashtag: #FoodSafe. Follow us on Twitter for our Memorial Day food safety Tweets and Retweet us! Don’t forget to tag us in your tweets (@USDAFoodSafety).


Wash plates and cutting boards graphic download

Food thermometer graphic download

Handwashing graphic download