Dr. Jennifer Quinlan, Drexel University

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Dr. Jennifer Quinlan is Associate Professor, Nutrition Sciences Department at Drexel University. Dr. Quinlan’s research focuses on identifying food safety risks for minority and low income populations. Her work uses focus groups and surveys to explore differences in handling of food by consumers from different demographic groups. Through her research, she identified the common practice of incorrectly washing raw poultry by consumers of all demographics which lead to the “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” campaign. The focus group research behind “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” was published in the Journal of Food Protection and the research regarding the larger survey is under peer review currently.

Listen to the full recording of the BAC Fighter Knowledge Exchange conference call with Dr.Quinlan and Dr. Bruhn.

Q:  Tell me about the methods you used in your research that led to the discovery that consumers of ALL demographics are still rinsing their chicken? How was the study funded?

A: Our formative research regarding egg and poultry handling by consumers utilized a combination of focus groups and surveys.  We conducted a total of 9 focus groups with consumers of different demographics to discuss practices with these consumers in a more “casual” and “exploratory” setting.  Focus groups are a great tool because they allow researchers to get feedback from participants that they don’t ask about directly.  This allows themes and practices to emerge that researchers may not be aware of to even ask about.  This is essentially what happened with our focus groups.  Participants expressed to us unique pork and poultry purchasing and handling practices that we hadn’t anticipated, one of these was the apparently widespread nature of washing raw poultry among participants.  A limitation of focus groups is that because findings are based on such a small number of people it can’t be assumed that they can be extrapolated to a larger population.  For this reason we conducted a larger telephone survey among approximately 400 consumers in the Philadelphia area.  This survey included questions related to the unique practices we had identified in the focus groups including practices like washing raw poultry, cooking a turkey overnight and purchasing live birds.

Q: So why is it a bad practice to rinse poultry before cooking it? What does the science tell us?

A:  The science tells us that when you’re dealing with raw poultry there’s a chance that it will have either Salmonella or Campylobacter on it, or both.  The science also tells us that cooking poultry to 165 ° F will kill those pathogens.  Simply rinsing with water is not an effective way to eliminate pathogens. The risk associated with rinsing raw poultry is that you increase the chances for cross contamination to occur in the kitchen.  The water used to rinse the poultry can serve as a vehicle to allow the bacteria from the poultry to spread both in the sink and in areas around the sink.

Q: Did people in the focus groups explain why they believed it was a good idea to wash chicken?

A: We heard a number of reasons why people believed they should rinse raw poultry both from focus groups as well as through feedback on social media.  Some people said “I just thought I was supposed to” – either because that’s what they had learned in their home or they had seen it on TV or read it in a recipe or even just because they thought they should because it was raw. Another group of people felt strongly that they needed to rinse raw poultry to remove either blood or just stickiness associated with raw poultry.  Others felt that because the poultry had been processed there was some type of residue from processing that they needed to remove.

Q: I’m sure a great deal of research went into developing the materials for the “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” campaign. As you started the process, did you have a clear idea of how you would motivate people to change behavior? How many different ideas did you have?

A:  The Transtheoretical Model (TTM) played a role in how we approached the development of the materials. The TTM identifies stages where people are in their willingness and ability to carry out a desired behavior ranging from pre-contemplative – that is not even knowing what the proper desired behavior is – all the way to maintenance, which would include regularly performing the desired behavior.  From our results, as well as some results that were coming out of Australia and the UK around that time, we predicted that most consumers were at the pre-contemplative stage – that is, they weren’t even aware that washing raw poultry was an incorrect behavior.  Based on this we felt that the first need was simply to get the message out in a captivating and appealing way to tell consumers not to wash their raw poultry, and therefore at least start to “move” consumers to the next stages of the TTM to either contemplate or prepare to perform the desired behavior of not washing raw poultry.  We recognized that it was unlikely that one initial campaign would address all of the barriers to getting some consumers to adopt this food handling practice. 

We also knew that we wanted to develop a multi-media campaign that would include not only print materials but also internet videos, cartoons, etc. and thanks to USDA funding, we had the resources to do so.  Photo novellas are essentially “picture stories” that aim to teach a lesson through a storyline.  We decided early on that we wanted to use this format in the research.  We really worked as a team with our colleagues at New Mexico State University to develop storylines that would be culturally diverse as well as include a range of chicken recipes and cuts of chicken.

Q: Most of your photo novellas and videos focus on a specific chicken preparation technique, stir fry, oven fried, etc. Do you find that people are equally inclined to rinse their chicken when they’re cooking whole vs chicken parts and chicken breasts?

A:  From our data, it was difficult to tell if people are equally inclined to rinse their chicken when cooking whole vs. parts. It was a small sample and the numbers were very close.  I think that is a question that still needs to be answered with a larger sample of the consumers.  We developed the materials to include in the message that NO type or cut of poultry should be washed, which is why we included a number of different cuts in the different photo novellas.  At the same time, in order to make the materials as culturally diverse as possible we wanted to include a range of recipes and actors/actresses so that educators might be able to use a particular video or photo novella that would be more appealing or easily accepted by their particular audience.

The development of the “germ-vision” really came about through discussions as a group and wondering if there was a way to visualize for consumers the data from a report out of the UK in 2003 that had shown with dye that aerosolization of spray off poultry could travel up to 2.3 feet. This is what the germ-vision was based on.

Interestingly, when the message and campaign of “Don’t Wash Your Chicken” gained such national media and social media attention last year, it wasn’t our culturally appropriate photo novellas and videos that gained the most attention, but the 14 second “germ-vision”.  I think this was a lesson for us and should be a lesson for other public health and food safety educators about the limitations of getting a public health message across in the age of social media and short attention spans.  While to date our videos have been viewed between 1500-5,000 times, depending on the video, the 14 second germ vision has been viewed almost 470,000 times!

Q: Let’s talk about results of your outreach effort.  What can you share in the way of evaluation data?

A: Prior to the press release about the availability of the materials last August, we did a controlled piloting of the materials in Philadelphia, PA. The materials were made available over a 4 week period in a number of libraries and one grocery store. We used a post-test only design to avoid raising the question of washing raw poultry before exposing consumers to the materials. Consumers were surveyed over a 3 week period following exposure to the materials and those who were exposed to the materials were statistically significantly more likely to report not washing poultry. However the number of consumers in both groups that reported not washing raw poultry were still very low – in the 10-25% range, so it also reconfirmed our belief that many consumers are still at the pre-contemplative stage and don’t even know the correct behavior.  We felt the large amount of “discussion” that arose in the media and social media last fall after the materials were released also reconfirmed this idea with many consumers “surprised” to find out this was the proper and recommended handling practice for raw poultry.  While feedback has been that some consumers have been happy to stop the practice of washing raw poultry once they heard the message, it’s clear that there are barriers for other consumers to not wash raw poultry.  Now that the message of not washing raw poultry has become part of the discussion and more widely disseminated, we believe there is a need for more research to better understand the barriers for those consumers who are not accepting of the message and determine how to tailor additional consumer education messages to address those barriers.