With the cameras rolling, 100 home cooks in Logan proved people aren't as meticulous in the kitchen as they think they are.

A study conducted by Utah State University clinical assistant professor Janet B. Anderson found that "food preparation is habitual." And many aren't in the habit of adequately cooking meat or washing their hands frequently.

"People do what they've always done, and they're often totally unaware they aren't always following basic food safety rules," Anderson said. The results were recently presented to the Institute of Food Technology in Dallas.

Though most people surveyed by the Food and Drug Administration and USU researchers say they follow accepted procedures for food safety in the kitchen, Anderson said many of the 76 million Americans who get food poisoning each year contract it at home.

Food poisoning puts about 325,000 in the hospital each year and causes 5,000 deaths in this country, according to the National Center for Disease Control.

Anderson did the study along with Dr. Tom Shuster of Spectrum Consulting in Logan to collect data on many aspects of home food preparation, including safety. The participants, who were paid $50 to allow Anderson's crew to film them in the kitchen, were chosen randomly to reflect the demographics of the Logan Valley: generally well-educated, Caucasian and middle-class.

"We wanted to find out what the problems are because food safety is something that affects everyone's lives," Anderson said. None of the cooks will be identified and none were given the results of the research.

They were told only that the researchers wanted to film them preparing "a special recipe" — either meatloaf, marinaded halibut or herb-breaded chicken — and a salad.

Though 98 percent of the kitchens were judged "very clean" before the cooking began, the cameras revealed that nearly half the cooks neglected to wash their hands before starting to prepare the food, and 16 percent of those who did wash didn't use soap.

Anderson said she had identified a number of instances when cooks should wash their hands during food preparation, including after raw handling meat and fish. All surfaces should also be thoroughly cleaned before the cook moves from handling one menu item to another.

Anderson's study found that, on average, each of the study participants failed to wash their hands seven times when they should have. Some did not wash their hands after handling raw chicken and fish, and two mothers readied baby bottles while preparing food without washing their hands first.

According to guidelines set by the FDA and an alliance of food-safety groups, the cooks in the study also did not adequately cook the meat they were preparing. Anderson said she was "alarmed" to find that 46 percent undercooked the beef and 82 percent failed to cook the chicken thoroughly. There is no standard set for cooking fish, but Anderson said about 17 percent of the fish in her study was undercooked.

Another food-preparation "habit" that Anderson ranked nearly as serious as too-little hand washing is the use of a cloth towel to wipe hands and surfaces. In many cases, the cooks used the same towel to wipe hands and surfaces, transferring germs all around the kitchen. Anderson said only about 29 percent of the cooks adequately cleaned surfaces during food preparation.

"We recommend using paper towels and immediately throwing each one away," Anderson said.

Results of the study, which was funded by the FDA and food-industry donors, will be used in educational campaigns and in classes taught by USU professors and other groups.

"We are constantly trying to educate people about the importance of washing their hands many times during cooking and keeping surfaces clean," Anderson said. "We teach young students and people getting food stamps, but everyone who cooks needs some education about safety. We were trying to identify the areas that cause the most problems."

She said her data will be available to aid FDA consumer-education campaigns, including the FDA's Fight Bac! program. Cooking guidelines are outlined on the campaign Web site at www.fightbac.org.