Surveys – especially food safety surveys — still suck

Public opinion surveys are built-in news stories: survey results garner attention for the sponsor and methodology is never questioned.

That’s why companies, organizations and governments continue to throw good money after bad to glean some insight into the consumer’s mind.

Today the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation – a cabal of food industry types – released its 2011 Food & Health Survey, and concluded that “while most Americans are confident and understand food safety is a shared responsibility, Americans are falling behind in regularly performing safe food handling practices. Although eight in 10 Americans report following safe food handling practices, the numbers continue to decline for washing hands with soap and water before handling food (79 percent in 2011; 89 percent in 2010; 92 percent in 2008)."

These numbers are ridiculously inflated and meaningless when observational studies in hospitals – where people are sick and dying and treated by professionals who should know better – peg proper handwashing compliance at something approaching 20 per cent.

But it’s a convenient way to blame consumers for outbreaks like salmonella in eggs. Or pot pies. Those microwavable thingies that consumers are supposed to use a thermometer to make sure they’re cooked.

“In addition, half of Americans (50 percent) do not use a food thermometer and 30 percent indicate nothing would encourage them to use a food thermometer.”

Based on observational studies, about 1 per cent of Americans use thermometers. Surveys are useless.

Go shopping instead; hang out with people. Shop at a variety of places and look at what consumers buy and when (usually when it’s on sale) and what they do in their kitchens.

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About Douglas Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Dr. Douglas Powell editor, retired professor, food safety 3/289 Annerley Rd Annerley, Queensland 4103 61478222221 I am based in Brisbane, Australia, 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time