Self-reported food safety surveys still suck, especially web ones, IFIC 2006-2010

Consumer attitudes toward food safety and their food-handling practices help to determine their risk of foodborne illness. The food safety questions in the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation Food and Health Survey have tracked these attitudes and self-reported practices using an annual, web-delivered survey each year since 2006, with more extensive food safety questions starting in 2008.

Participants were members of an online panel compensated with a point system by a survey company, were recruited annually, and reflected the latest Census data for the United States population on key Census characteristics, including age, gender, race, and level of educational attainment. Each year’s Survey included approximately 1,000 participants.

From 2008 to 2010, when the Survey included detailed food safety questions, participant confidence in the food supply increased (P = .000) and respondent reports of the following key food safety practices — hand washing (P = .001), washing cutting boards (P = .000), separating raw meat and poultry from ready-to-eat food products (P = .000), cooking to required temperature (P = .001), and properly storing leftovers (P = .000) — as well as following microwave cooking instructions declined (P ≤ .001).

White, more highly educated respondents, and respondents from households that included individuals who were particularly vulnerable to foodborne illness, were more likely to report following recommended food safety practices. Survey respondents reported using expiration dates (68%), ingredient listings (54%), allergen labeling (9%), organic labeling (16%), and country of origin labeling (16%) on package labels to make food purchase and consumption decisions.

Consumers used a range of sources for food safety information. The most trusted sources were government agencies/officials (39%), health professionals (37%), health associations (31%) and television news programs (31%).

Consumer responses show gaps in knowledge and implementation of food safety behaviors that can be addressed by food safety educators, and demographic differences documented by survey responses can help educators put their information into contexts that will make it more compelling. Food safety information needs to have consistent, actionable messages distributed through multiple delivery systems to reach target audiences.

International food information council foundation food and health survey, 2006–2010, food safety: a web-enabled survey
Food Protection Trends, Vol. 32, No. 6, Pages 309–326
Mildred M. Cody, Robert Gravani, Marianne Smith Edge, Carrie Dooher
and Christy White