Food Safety Self-Reported Behaviors and Cognitions of Young Adults: Results of a National Study

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With limited opportunities to learn safe food handling via observation, many young adults lack the knowledge needed to keep them safe from foodborne disease. It is important to reach young adults with food safety education because of their current and future roles as caregivers. With a nationwide online survey, the demographic characteristics, self-reported food handling and consumption behaviors, food safety beliefs, locus of control, self-efficacy, stage of change, and knowledge of young adults with education beyond high school (n = 4,343) were assessed. Young adults (mean age, 19.92 ± 1.67 SD) who participated were mainly female, white, never married, and freshmen or sophomores. Participants correctly answered 60% of the knowledge questions and were most knowledgeable about groups at greatest risk for foodborne disease and least knowledgeable about common food sources of foodborne disease pathogens. They reported less than optimal levels of safe food handling practices. Young adults generally had a limited intake of foods that increase the risk of foodborne disease, positive food safety beliefs, an internal food safety locus of control, and confidence in their ability to handle food safely, and they were contemplating an improvement in, or preparing to improve, their food handling practices. Females significantly outperformed males on nearly all study measures. Future food safety educational efforts should focus on increasing knowledge and propelling young adults into the action stage of safe food handling, especially males. Efforts to improve knowledge and, ultimately, food safety behaviors are essential to safeguard the health of these young adults and enable them to fulfill the role of protecting the health of their future families.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA 2: Department of Food Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA 3: Department of Food Science, University of California, Davis, Davis, California 95616, USA 4: Cooperative Extension, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA

Publication date: August 1, 2007

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