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Food Safety Knowledge of Consumers and the Microbiological and Temperature Status of Their Refrigerators

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The objectives of this study were to examine domestic food safety knowledge levels of consumers, establish the levels and incidence of bacterial contamination and operational temperatures in domestic refrigerators, and identify areas in which consumer food safety education is necessary in Ireland. A food safety knowledge questionnaire applied to a representative sample of households (n = 1,020) throughout the island of Ireland found the gaps in consumer food safety knowledge. Analysis of swab samples (n = 900) recovered from the domestic refrigerators in these households showed average total viable counts of 7.1 log CFU/cm2 and average total coliform counts of 4.0 log CFU/cm2. Analysis of swab samples also detected the incidence of Staphylococcus aureus (41%), Escherichia coli (6%), Salmonella enterica (7%), Listeria monocytogenes (6%), and Yersinia enterocolitica (2%). Campylobacter jejuni and E. coli O157:H7 were not detected in domestic refrigerators. The temperature profiles of a subset of the sampled refrigerators (100) were monitored for 72 h, and 59% were found to operate, on average, at temperatures above the recommended 5°C. Knowledge and temperature survey results varied considerably, but consumers who scored better in terms of basic food safety knowledge had reduced levels of bacterial contamination in their refrigerators and reported a reduced incidence of food-associated illnesses. This study confirms the effect of basic food hygiene knowledge on hygienic practice and identifies specific areas for emphasis in the development and delivery of effective food safety risk communication messages to consumers.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Foods Safety Department, Teagasc—The National Food Centre, Ashtown, Dublin 15, Ireland 2: Food Microbiology Research Group, NICHE, The University of Ulster, Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland

Publication date: July 1, 2005

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