Use a thermometer, raw is risky: Large number of US consumers ignore advice

Providing consumers with recommendations on specific food safety practices may be a cost-effective policy option, acting either as a complement to or substitute for additional food safety regulations on food suppliers, but it would require a detailed understanding of consumer food safety practices.

Using data from the 2014 to 2016 American Time Use Survey–Eating and Health Module, we examine two food safety practices in which Government health and safety officials, as well as the broader food safety community, have offered unequivocal advice: meal preparers should always use a thermometer to verify that meat has reached a recommended temperature and consumers should avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk.

We found that 2 percent of at-home meal preparers in the United States served raw milk during a typical week; of which 80 percent lived with two or more people, 44 percent were married, 36 percent lived with one or more children, and 28 percent lived with at least one person age 62 or older, indicating the potential that at-risk populations are consuming raw milk.

While preparing meals with meat, poultry, or seafood, 14 percent of at-home meal preparers in the United States used a food thermometer. Meal preparers who use a food thermometer typically earned more, reported better physical health, were more likely to exercise, were more likely married, and had larger and younger households. Last, rates of food thermometer usage were higher for at-home meal preparers whose occupation was food-preparation related, suggesting food safety training or awareness at work may influence food safety behavior at home.

Consumer Food Safety Practices: Raw Milk Consumption and Food Thermometer Use

Rhodes, Taylor M., Fred Kuchler, Ket McClelland, and Karen S. Hamrick.

EIB-205, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, January 2019.

Surveys still suck: US consumers definition of food safety expanded, so provide them info

Health and wellness, safety, social impact, experience, and transparency are all factors 51 percent of consumers weigh when determining which food items to purchase, according to a joint study from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Food Marketing Institute (FMI), and consulting firm Deloitte.

survey-saysThe study, “Capitalizing on the Shifting Consumer Food Value Equation,” [PDF] found these new factors influence purchasing decisions in addition to traditional drivers like taste, price, and convenience.

There’s a shift in the way people think about food safety. “Americans no longer define the concept of food safety based on near-term risks to their health,” a joint news release said.

According to the survey, 75 percent of consumers include health, wellness, and transparency in their definition of food safety. Other factors consumers included in their definition of food safety: free from harmful ingredients (62 percent); clear and accurate labeling (51 percent); and fewer ingredients, processing, and no artificial ingredients (42 percent).

“Today’s consumers have a higher thirst for knowledge than previous generations and they are putting the assessment of that information into their value equation,” said GMA Operations and Industry Collaboration Senior Executive Vice President Jim Flannery. “Brands that win with consumers will likely be those that provide the information they seek, well beyond what is on the label.”

Foodborne Illness: Consumer Costs, Consequences, and Choices (via The Abstract)

I’m collaborating with Matt Shipman, public information officer at NC State University and curator of The Abstract, on a set of food safety-related posts from other NCSU folks as we roll toward WHO’s World Health Day on April 7– which is focused this year on food safety. Here’s a post on consumer purchasing issues as they relate to food safety from my friend Kathryn Boys, an assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at NC State.

Changes to our food system have increased the availability and variety of foods for U.S. consumers, but these changes have also introduced food safety challenges that can have significant impacts on human health and the economy. Researchers are working to develop new food safety tools – and in the meantime there are actions consumers can take to lower their risk of foodborne illness.Boys-Food-Safety-HEADER-848x477

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million instances of foodborne illnesses occur annually in the U.S., resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. The value of medical costs, productivity losses, long-term mental and other health impacts, and the costs of premature deaths stemming from these events is substantial. The fourteen pathogens that account for a majority of U.S. foodborne illness have recently been estimated to cost the U.S. economy $14 billion and cause a loss of 61,000 quality-adjusted life years annually.

The potential for a specific foodborne illness outbreak to have a broad and significant impact on human health and the economy is compounded by the integration and globalization of food supply chains. Historically, because of perishability and the fact that produce was predominantly consumed in its raw form, incidents involving produce contaminated in a farm setting would have only affected consumers geographically near the farm. Today, through improved transportation and logistics networks and increased processing, that same produce has the potential to be used in a wider variety of products and affect consumers far from where it was grown.

In addition, identifying the source of contamination may be challenging and time consuming for food wholesalers and other distributors who aggregate products from across many suppliers and who have not implemented traceability practices. And that delay in tracing the source of the contamination means there is more time in which additional consumers may become sick.

When Illness Strikes: Impact on Individual Consumers

A majority of consumers who become ill due to foodborne illness recover at home or with minor medical assistance. In cases of severe illness that can be attributed to either food prepared outside of their home (i.e., restaurants), or contaminated prior to entering their home, consumers may pursue legal remedy for their illness. Information on the number or outcomes of cases settled out of court is not available. We do have some insight, however, of food safety cases settled through jury trials.

Buzby, et al., analyzed federal jury trials (1988-1997) for foodborne pathogens to determine which factors of the incident/case most influenced the trial outcomes. These authors found that 31.4 percent of cases were won by plaintiffs, and juries awarded a median of $25,560 (ranging from $0 to $2.37 million in 1998 dollars). Demographic characteristics of the plaintiff, the ability of plaintiffs to link their illness to a specific pathogen, and the severity of the health impact resulted in higher awards.

Given increasing public and media attention to foodborne illness, continued integration of food supply networks, and improved traceability systems, it is likely that both the number of cases and the amount of these awards will increase over time. I am currently working with collaborators at Virginia Tech and the USDA Economic Research Service to examine this issue.

Foodborne Illness: Preventative Market Measures

Most U.S. consumers have faith in the safety of food supply chain. In general, consumers expect their products to be free from dangerous levels of contamination and to be efficiently recalled if there is a problem. However, the incidence of foodborne illness suggests that problems remain.

Higher levels of food safety can be attained for most food products, lowering the risk of purchasing a contaminated product. But increased food safety comes at a cost.

Research has explored how much more consumers are willing to pay for higher levels of food safety.

In general, findings indicate that U.S. consumers are willing to pay more for higher levels of safety due to risk from microbial, chemical or physical (e.g., metal) contamination. How much more, however, has been found to vary considerably depending on the research setting, the particular food products being studied, the extent of risk reduction, and the research participants’ adherence to safe food handling practices, perception of risk, and demographic characteristics.  The same is true for perceived threats to food safety from other sources.

Consumers concerned about pesticide residues or genetic modification, for example, are willing to pay higher prices for organic and non-GMO foods. Consumer willingness to pay to avoid other food technologies, such as artificial colorants, fruit-ripening technologies, growth hormones and other growth promotants, and nanotechnology (among many others) has been summarized by Lusk, et al.

Consumers interested in decreasing their risk of foodborne illness have the option of buying products from companies with good food safety records, and to keep abreast of product recalls and safety alerts. Once food has entered the home, the food handling and sanitation practices that consumers can take to limit their risk of foodborne illness are generally well known. Information about safe food handling techniques can be found at

In the future, additional tools are also likely to be available to consumers. By way of example, food producers often signal the presence (or absence) of specific food attributes through a growing array of food certification and labeling schemes. While at present, there is no label to identify products with higher levels of microbial food safety, it is possible that one may emerge. In addition, human vaccines are currently under development to protect against illness due to Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. These and other tools are likely to significantly change the food safety market and policy landscape in coming years.

Surveys still suck: Consumer-reported handling of raw poultry products at home

Salmonella and Campylobacter cause an estimated combined total of 1.8 million foodborne infections each year in the United States. Most cases of salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis are associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry or with cross-contamination. Between 1998 and 2008, 20% of Salmonella and 16% of Campylobacter foodborne disease outbreaks were associated with food prepared inside the home.

barfblog.Stick It InA nationally representative Web survey of U.S. adult grocery shoppers (n = 1,504) was conducted to estimate the percentage of consumers who follow recommended food safety practices when handling raw poultry at home. The survey results identified areas of low adherence to current recommended food safety practices: not washing raw poultry before cooking, proper refrigerator storage of raw poultry, use of a food thermometer to determine doneness, and proper thawing of raw poultry in cold water.

Nearly 70% of consumers reported washing or rinsing raw poultry before cooking it, a potentially unsafe practice because “splashing” of contaminated water may lead to the transfer of pathogens to other foods and other kitchen surfaces.

Only 17.5% of consumers reported correctly storing raw poultry in the refrigerator. Sixty-two percent of consumers own a food thermometer, and of these, 26% or fewer reported using one to check the internal temperature of smaller cuts of poultry and ground poultry. Only 11% of consumers who thaw raw poultry in cold water reported doing so correctly.

The study results, coupled with other research findings, will inform the development of science-based consumer education materials that can help reduce foodborne illness from Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Journal of Food Protection®, Number 1, January 2015, pp. 4-234, pp. 180-186(7)

Kosa, Katherine M.; Cates, Sheryl C.; Bradley, Samantha; Chambers IV, Edgar; Godwin, Sandria

How Chinese will be able to sue over bad food

I like the cash prizes part in the story below from the China Post, building on other initiatives, like Chapman’s #citizenfoodsafety effort. We all eat.

A panel discussion at the 2013 National Food Safety Meeting earlier in Dec.  focused on how Chinese consumers could better be compensated if they are negatively affected by doug.ben.13food products with mislabeled ingredients or tainted with illegal additives.

Chairing the panel, Professor Huang Li of National Chengchi University said that consumers have been put at a disadvantage when involved in food safety incidents. For instance, they are required to show invoices to claim compensation. “This means ‘no invoice, no compensation,’ in sharp contrast to big-name vendors, who are able to retrieve tens of millions of New Taiwan dollars in compensation if they suffer losses from selling falsified food products,” Huang said.

A representative of the Consumers’ Foundation at the panel discussion suggested that the government should impose large sum punitive fines on firms which violate the Food Sanitation Act so that consumers can enjoy more compensation.

Meanwhile, Tsai Hong-chih, chairman of the Changhua Medical Alliance for Public Affairs, said that a significant portion of proposed food safety funds should be used to encourage locals to report violations of the Food Sanitation Act, with cash prizes given to informants to be boosted to 30 to 50 percent of fines collected. people can make a difference

Some companies really are better. Yet as consumers, parents, shoppers, we don’t get to make that food safety decision at retail.

Still, everyone votes at checkout. is here to empower individuals so they can FoodFightAnimalHouse-185x141demand and choose microbiologically safe food. will still be the place where I send food shout-outs to my daughters, where me and Chapman and Hubbell will post stuff, but to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, it’s about multiple messages and multiple media.

We’re still working out some bugs with the new blog site, the new daily listserv, but getting there. This will be the last dailybarf-l.

Sign up for the individual blog posting, or the daily mailer at And twitter at consumesafefood, and facebook.

Focus on the sick people and farm conditions rather than the blame: lotsa time for that later; Indiana says official didn’t blame consumers for cantaloupe outbreak

With at least two people dead and 178 sick from Salmonella linked to cantaloupe in 21 states, Jim Howell of the Indiana Department of Health told growers improper food handling procedures may be to blame for a good portion of the illnesses.

But now the Indiana State Department of Health has insisted to the Evansville Courier and Press the report was inaccurate.

"Consumers are not to blame for the salmonella outbreak, and no member of the ISDH staff has ever stated or insinuated such a claim," said state health department spokeswoman Amy Reel.

Dr. James Howell, an assistant Indiana State Department of Health commissioner who heads the Public Health and Preparedness Commission, visited melon growers Monday at Vincennes Tractor Inc.

He was quoted in the Vincennes Sun-Commercial as saying that "most of the bacteria is on the surface" and that "people just need to clean their produce before they eat it." He also reportedly said consumers are increasingly unaware of how to handle fresh produce, reciting the stand-by that home economics needs to be re-introduced in schools.

Reel said Howell’s comments were misconstrued, stating, "Assumptions were made that could detract from the important health message that consumers should be washing all produce to help reduce their risk of any foodborne illness. The current salmonella investigation is ongoing.”

But washing doesn’t do much, especially with Salmonella on cantaloupe. And what hasn’t been reported anywhere is the food safety precautions undertaken – or not – on the farm; the Food and Drug Administration will figure that out, and I’ll wait for the report.

There’s a rich tradition of people saying dumbass things in the midst of an outbreak.

Where are my cantaloupes grown: how is non-food safety nerd to know?

I love cantaloupe. It’s probably my favorite fruit. We buy one every couple of weeks, wash the outside with a scrub brush, cut it up and keep it in the fridge (which I have set for 40F) for about 3 days (since Listeria grows, although slowly, at refrigeration temperatures, I started paying attention to how long we kept it after the 2011 Jensen Farms-linked outbreak).

On Friday, CDC announced the investigation into a cluster of salmonellosis illnesses tied to  Southern Indiana-grown cantaloupes.  Attached to that announcement was a list of consumer recommendations:

Consumers who recently purchased cantaloupes grown in southwestern Indiana are advised not to eat them and discard any remaining cantaloupe.

Based on the available information, consumers can continue to purchase and eat cantaloupes that did not originate in southwestern Indiana.

Many cantaloupes have the growing area identified with a sticker on the fruit. If no sticker is present, consumers should inquire about the source. When in doubt, throw it out.

Consumers who are buying or have recently bought cantaloupe should ask their retailer if the cantaloupe was grown in southwestern Indiana.

Yesterday, I was just a regular taking-my-kids-shopping patron of a grocery store. One that wanted some cantaloupe. I decided to do a bit of reality research (n=1) and follow the consumer recommendations from the perspective of a non-food safety nerd. I checked the sticker on one of the cantaloupes in the bin and it said:
"S&S Stamoules Produce, Product of USA" (right, exactly as shown).

Nothing about the region or anything. I tried to google the producer’s name to see where they were located – but I didn’t have cell coverage.I asked the kid stocking the produce section. He said he didn’t know.

So I left empty-handed.

I didn’t bother enquiring about the cantaloupe we purchased two weeks ago.

When I got home I went back to trusty Google and found that Stamoules Produce is located in California’s San Joaquin Valley (and has a food safety section on their website where they focus exclusively on pesticides – no mention of good ag practices or whether they clean and sanitize their production line). I’ll have to remember that next time.

Blame the farm, not the shopper for listeria-in-cantaloupe; little consumers could do; any food is only as good as its worst grower

msnbc reports now that federal investigators have identified dirty equipment, faulty sanitation and bad storage practices at a Colorado farm as the likely cause of a cantaloupe listeria outbreak that has killed 25 people, top U.S. food safety experts say there’s one actor in this deadly drama that shouldn’t be blamed: The consumer.

"There’s nothing consumers could have done," said Dr. Doug Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.

No amount of washing, scrubbing, bleaching or peeling would have cleaned cantaloupes contaminated by Jensen Farms’ packing practices enough to remove listeria bacteria that has sickened at least 123 people and killed 25 in the deadliest outbreak in a quarter-century.

The cold, moist environment maintained over time is exactly what listeria needs to thrive, said Dr. Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and a food safety expert at the University of Minnesota.

The bacteria clearly contaminated a huge proportion of the more than 310,000 cases of cantaloupe — between 1.5 million and 4.5 million fruit — that were recalled by Jensen Farms in mid-September, said Powell.

"Given that 25 people are dead, this was a massive contamination to have that impact," he said.

It’s not clear whether people were infected by bacteria that clung to the fruit’s porous, bumpy rind, whether the germs somehow migrated into the flesh of the fruit, or whether people spread contamination through the fruit by slicing it with a knife, Powell said. Good hygiene and food safety practices can lessen the chance of infection, but the contamination shouldn’t be there in the first place.

"The idea that this is the consumer’s responsibility is just nonsense," he said. "What’s missing is any verification that individual farmers are doing what they’re supposed to be doing."

"Don’t rely on paperwork if your brand relies on selling safe food," Powell said. "Any commodity is only as good as its worst grower."

We don’t need no education: burger preparation, what consumers say and do in the home

I cringe when someone says, ‘food safety is simple.’

A review of existing studies by the U.K. Food Standards Agency found that, although people “are often aware of good food hygiene practices, many people are failing to chill foods properly, aren’t following advice on food labels and aren’t sticking to simple hygiene practices that would help them avoid spreading harmful bacteria around their kitchens.”

Yes, individuals are impervious to risk; been known for decades.

And there’s that word, ‘simple’ again.

I especially cringe when someone says, ‘cooking a hamburger is easy with these simple food safety steps.’

Ho Phang and Christine Bruhn report in the current Journal of Food Protection that in video observation of 199 California consumers making hamburgers and salad in their own kitchens, handwashing was poor, only 4% used a thermometer to check if the burger was safely cooked, and there were an average of 43 cross-contamination events per household.

There’s some good data in the paper about what consumers do in their own kitchens, and the results are an additional nail in the self-reported-food-safety-survey coffin: people know what they are supposed to do but don’t do it.

But what the paper doesn’t address is how to influence food safety behaviors. Instead, the University of California at Davis authors fall back on the people-need-to-be-educated model, without out providing data on how that education – I prefer compelling information – should be provided.

The authors state:

• educational materials need to emphasize the important role of the consumer in
preventing foodborne illness and that foodborne illnesses can result from foods prepared in the home.;

• the gap between the awareness of the importance of hand washing and the actual practice of adequate hand washing should be addressed by food safety educators.

• food safety educators should address the lack of reliability of visual cues during cooking (stick it in — dp);

• food safety educators should emphasize faucet cleaning with soap and water as a way of preventing cross-contamination; and,

• ignorance about food irradiation point to a further need for education.

The authors do correctly note that program to promote the use of thermometers when cooking burgers, initiated by the introduction of Thermy in 2000, has not been successful. So why do more education?

And the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Jack-in-the-Box hamburgers happened in Jan. 1993, not 1994 as stated in the paper; someone should have caught that.

Burger preparation: what consumers say and do in the home
Journal of Food Protection®, Volume 74, Number 10, October 2011 , pp. 1708-1716(9)
Phang, Ho S.; Bruhn, Christine M.
Ground beef has been linked to outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria like Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. Consumers may be exposed to foodborne illness through unsafe preparation of ground beef. Video footage of 199 volunteers in Northern California preparing hamburgers and salad was analyzed for compliance with U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations and for violations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code 2009. A questionnaire about consumer attitudes and knowledge about food safety was administered after each filming session. The majority of volunteers, 78%, cooked their ground beef patties to the Food Code 2009 recommended internal temperature of 155°F (ca. 68°C) or above, and 70% cooked to the U.S. Department of Agriculture consumer end-point guideline of 160°F (ca. 71°C), with 22% declaring the burger done when the temperature was below 155°F. Volunteers checked burger doneness with a meat thermometer in 4% of households. Only 13% knew the recommended internal temperature for ground beef. The average hand washing time observed was 8 s; only 7% of the hand washing events met the recommended guideline of 20 s. Potential cross-contamination was common, with an average of 43 events noted per household. Hands were the most commonly observed vehicle of potential cross-contamination. Analysis of food handling behaviors indicates that consumers with and without food safety training exposed themselves to potential foodborne illness even while under video observation. Behaviors that should be targeted by food safety educators are identified.