Keeping Food Safety Surveys Honest

Article excerpt

Video Checks Up Consumer Meal Preps

With their kitchens as backdrops, cooking utensils as props, and a supporting cast of family members, up to 150 folks in Logan, Utah, are going before a camera to let food safety experts see just how well they practice food safety in their homes.

The home-based videotapings are part of a pilot study funded by the Food and Drug Administration to learn whether consumers actually do in the kitchen what they say they do in telephone surveys. The cameras will film people as they prepare a recipe provided by the research team. The footage will then be evaluated to identify specific food-handling steps.

"Preliminary data shows that consumers are not as vigilant as they say they are," says Alan Levy, Ph.D., the consumer studies team leader in FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. He says final results will be available in early 2000.

According to Levy, the purpose of the in-home study is to compare the accuracy of consumer practices stated in telephone surveys with what is actually done in the home. "And we want to identify the real problems--where people are making mistakes without realizing it," he says.

The telephone surveys, including one FDA conducted in 1998, give consumers mixed reviews on their food-handling practices. For example, FDA's 1998 survey shows that, when compared with data collected in 1993, consumers are becoming more aware of food safety hazards. However, many consumers still practice risky behaviors, such as eating raw eggs and foods containing raw eggs, and eating cooked meat without first using a thermometer to check for the proper internal temperature.

"There have been quite impressive improvements in people's food safety behavior," says Sara Fein, Ph.D., a consumer science specialist with the consumer studies team. "But there are still risky consumption behaviors across the board."

The survey of a random sample of 2,001 U.S. adults was conducted February through April 1998. Among the improvements identified in the survey were:

* Greater awareness o f food safety problems. More than 90 percent of respondents had heard of Salmonella bacteria as a problem in food, compared with 84 percent in 1993. And the percentage of adults who recognized either Listeria or Campylobacter as microbial food pathogens increased 40 percent between 1993 and 1998.

* Greater knowledge o f food safety issues. The percentage who knew Salmonella could be killed by cooking increased 60 percent between 1993 and 1998, and 25 percent of respondents knew that kidney failure was a possible outcome of food-borne illness in 1998, compared with 18 percent in 1993. …