Survey: Shut it down! How many Americans are engaging in unsanitary kitchen habits?

Key takeaways

  • Millennials were the most likely generation to say they’re adventurous in the kitchen.
  • Over half of the people surveyed failed our kitchen safety and knowledge quiz.
  • 37.3% of respondents (or nearly 4 in 10) believe in the 5-second rule.
  • More people said they had a meat thermometer in their kitchen than a fire extinguisher.
Surveys

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are spending more time at home than ever before, which has prompted Americans to devote more time to preparing and eating at home. Since the pandemic began, cooking at home has become a "thing" again, and many people say they're going to continue cooking at home after the health crisis is over.

While people are spending more time in the kitchen, we wondered about how safe they're being when handling food. To explore how safe people are in the kitchen, we surveyed over 1,000 people about their kitchen habits and cooking knowledge. For instance, people reported being more adventurous in the kitchen – with millennials the most likely to say as much – but they're not always taking proper safety precautions during these adventures. Many of the people we surveyed admitted to mishandling meats and not having the proper safety equipment, like a fire extinguisher, in their kitchen. Plus, more than half of the people we surveyed didn't pass our kitchen safety and knowledge quiz. Ready to test your culinary aptitude? Read on.

Time in the kitchen

To set the stage, we asked respondents how often they cook meals at home and their comfort in the kitchen.

How often people cook meals at home

Over half of respondents said they often cook meals at home, while nearly 28% claimed they always cook meals at home and less than 1% said they never cooked at home. This correlates to the sharp decline in money spent on food away from home, such as takeout and restaurant dining, during the pandemic, which dropped 34% in April 2020 alone.

Millennials were the least likely to say they often or always cook meals at home. This isn't necessarily surprising, as millennials were also the most likely to order takeout or delivery for lunch or dinner before and during the pandemic.

Given the increase in home cooking, we wanted to find out how confident Americans are in the kitchen. When asked respondents to rate their cooking ability on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being extremely proficient), the average response was 6.8. However, there was a gender disparity: Women were more confident in their cooking skills than men, with the average rating among women coming in at a 7, compared to 6.5 for men.

As people grew bored with their familiar favorites, the pandemic has also made some cooks more adventurous in the kitchen. Unsurprisingly perhaps, adventurousness in the kitchen appears to decrease with age. Baby boomers rated their adventurousness the lowest of all three generations. And despite spending less time cooking at home, millennials claimed to be the most adventurous home cooks.

Kitchen adventures meet kitchen safety

To gauge people's cooking expertise, we asked them to complete a cooking knowledge quiz we'd devised. We asked them questions about kitchen habits, such as meat handling and how often they change their dishcloth or sponge, as well as general knowledge questions on what internal temperatures to cook different types of meat to.

Testing people's cooking knowledge

Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of respondents couldn't pass our quiz. Men were more likely to fail than women, which suggests women are right to rate their cooking ability higher than men. Only 34.9% of men passed the quiz, compared to almost 41% of women. There is a long history of gendered stereotypes around who should be handling the cooking, with women historically doing most of it.

There was a generational gap in kitchen knowledge, too, with the pass rate decreasing with age. Baby boomers proved to be the most knowledgeable with over 52% passing the quiz, followed by Generation X with a nearly 42% pass rate. Millennials were the least likely to pass the quiz at less than one-third of respondents.

The most commonly missed question on our quiz was the temperature fresh beef should be cooked to. Over 70% of people answered incorrectly. According to FoodSafety.gov, fresh beef should be cooked to a minimum 145 degrees. That said, people were more likely to have a meat thermometer in their kitchen than a fire extinguisher, despite the fact that the kitchen is the first place you should keep this safety device.

Fact or fiction: Common kitchen myths revealed

Kitchen adventures are full of trial and error – sometimes more error than a home cook would like. The fact is it's far too easy for even the most experienced home chefs to go awry, no thanks to the abundance of kitchen myths that can get between the most well-intentioned cook and a successful meal. We asked people about common cooking myths to see who has fallen prey to misguided advice.

Percentage of people who believe various cooking mythsThe most commonly believed cooking myth was that well-done meat is safer to eat. Almost 43% of respondents felt this to be the case – the truth is once you've reached the minimum temperature of the meat being prepared, it's perfectly safe. FoodSafety.gov has a helpful chart of what minimum temperature you should cook different types of meat to. Just make sure you use a kitchen thermometer and not just your senses to determine if your meat is cooked safely, as color and texture are not reliable indicators of meat preparedness. On that note, a lack of pinkness is not a reliable indicator that chicken is done, despite over 34% of respondents believing as much. By a similar token, red liquid leaking from meat doesn't necessarily mean it's undercooked, contrary to what over 21% of people believed. This liquid isn't actually blood but rather myoglobin, a protein that leaks out when meat is heated.

The second most commonly believed cooking myth was that marinades tenderize meat. Over 37% of people said they believe this to be true. While marinating can increase flavor, it's unlikely to change the texture of meat since it seldom penetrates the surface of the meat. Neither does searing meat to seal in the juices, although it may give you a nice crust.

Almost 23% of respondents were too hard on microwaving, too, falsely believing that microwaving food robs it of its nutrients. In fact, the FDA reports that foods cooked in a microwave may keep more of their nutrients because microwaves cook more rapidly than conventional methods and often without adding water. Microwaving is also more energy efficient than conventional cooking methods, according to the FDA, so you may be doing both yourself and the environment a favor by using your microwave more.

Questionable kitchen habits

Even when we know the rules for proper kitchen behavior, sometimes a shortcut is just too tempting to pass up.

Percentage of people who report practicing questionable cooking behaviors

Rare is the home cook who hasn't eyeballed measurements rather than using a measuring cup. Over 65% of people admitted to "guestimating" in the kitchen, making it the most common questionable cooking behavior. Nearly 60% said they've also gone off-recipe while cooking. Even pro chefs will follow a recipe all the way through at least once before making changes.

While eyeballing measurements and not following a recipe can lead to questionable results in the kitchen, they aren't the most unhealthy of questionable kitchen habits. You shouldn't rinse meat in the sink, although over one-third of respondents say they have. Washing meat in the sink before or after cooking can lead to cross-contamination where bacteria spread from the meat to other areas like your hands or kitchen surfaces.

Then there's the 5-second rule, which we've all probably heard, but only about one-third of people said they trust. Millennials were the most likely to say they believe in the five-second rule. Coincidentally, there is some validity to the practice. According to the 5-second rule, food that falls on the floor is still safe to eat as long as it is picked up within five seconds. Sounds like urban legend, but one team of researchers found that longer contact did result in a higher transfer of bacteria, but there were also foods for which the transfer was instantaneous, such as watermelon, thanks to its high moisture content. Conversely, gummy candy had the lowest bacterial transfer. The surface food is dropped on also factors in, as food dropped on carpet tends to have less transfer than food dropped on hard surfaces like wood or tile.

Kitchen incidents

Even the most experienced chefs are prone to a kitchen mishap now and then. We asked respondents which had happened to them and got some surprising results.

Common cooking mishapsThe most common kitchen mishap experienced was adding too much salt or seasoning (56.8%). People are far more likely to over-season food than under-season it. They're also more likely to forget an ingredient than an entire step in a recipe – unless that step is forgetting to turn on the stove or oven, which almost 50% of respondents said they'd done before. Over 15% of respondents said they'd started a cooking-related fire (hence why that fire extinguisher should be close at hand). Women and baby boomers were the most likely to say they'd ignited a fire while cooking. Men, on the other hand, were the most likely to give themselves or someone else food poisoning.

Luckily for dinner guests everywhere, food poisoning was the least common kitchen mishap. You're more likely to find an item that isn't food in your dish – particularly hair, which over 46% of respondents said they'd found in a meal they cooked – than to end up with food poisoning. Gen Xers admitted to being the most likely to drop an item that wasn't food into a dish.

Making your home a safe place

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives, not the least of which is how and where we eat. Americans across the nation are doing more in-home dining and preparing their own meals, which could make millions of Americans healthier. But experts also worry that more time at home could pose risks to residents who haven't ensured their homes are safe inside and out.

At Cinch Home Services, we want to make sure your home is safe and ready to cook when you are. You can instantly schedule an appliance repair with one of our prescreened service professionals online or sign up for one of our award-winning home warranties to help mitigate the cost of appliance repairs and breakdowns. We can set you up with individual appliance or built-in system warranties or the Cinch Complete Home Plan that covers your appliances and built-in systems. Visit cinchhomeservices.com to learn more.

Methodology

We surveyed 1,030 people about their cooking knowledge and habits. Respondents were 48.3% men and 51.3% women. Three respondents were nonbinary, and one respondent chose not to disclose their gender. The average age of respondents was 39.3 with a standard deviation of 12.3 years.

All respondents answered a series of questions testing their basic cooking knowledge, as well as how safe they are in the kitchen based on their habits. Questions included how they store meat; their knowledge of internal temperatures when cooking meat; how often they clean or change out sponges/rags in the kitchen; how often they burn themselves; appropriate cooking precautions (e.g., wearing closed-toe shoes) and more.

The quiz totaled 13 points, and respondents received one point for each correct answer. Total scores of 50% or higher were considered passing, while scores under 50% were considered failing.

Questions about cooking myths, bad cooking habits and cooking mishaps were all asked as check-all-that-apply questions. Therefore, percentages won't add to 100.

Limitations

The data we are presenting rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution and exaggeration.

Fair use statement

If you know someone whose time in the kitchen could benefit from our findings, we'd love for you to share them for noncommercial purposes only. We also ask that you include a link back to this page so they can view the study in its entirety, and our creators can get credit for their hard work. Thank you.

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