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Trends in U.S. Consumers' Safe Handling and Consumption of Food and Their Risk Perceptions, 1988 through 2010

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Although survey results measuring the safety of consumers' food handling and risky food consumption practices have been published for over 20 years, evaluation of trends is impossible because the designs of published studies are not comparable. The Food Safety Surveys used comparable methods to interview U.S. adults by telephone in 1988, 1993, 2001, 2006, and 2010 about food handling (i.e., cross-contamination prevention) and risky consumption practices (eating raw or undercooked foods from animals) and perceived risk from foodborne illness. Sample sizes ranged from 1,620 to 4,547. Responses were analyzed descriptively, and four indices measuring meat, chicken, and egg cross-contamination, fish cross-contamination, risky consumption, and risk perceptions were analyzed using generalized linear models. The extent of media coverage of food safety issues was also examined. We found a substantial improvement in food handling and consumption practices and an increase in perceived risk from foodborne illness between 1993 and 1998. All indices were stable or declined between 1998 and 2006. Between 2006 and 2010, the two safe food handling practice indices increased significantly, but risk perceptions did not change, and safe consumption declined. Women had safer food handling and consumption practices than men. The oldest and youngest respondents and those with the highest education had the least safe food handling behaviors. Changes in safety of practices over the survey years are consistent with the change in the number of media stories about food safety in the periods between surveys. This finding suggests that increased media attention to food safety issues may raise awareness of food safety hazards and increase vigilance in food handling by consumers.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, 5100 Paint Branch Parkway, College Park, Maryland 20740, USA 2: School of Economics, University of Maine, 5782 Winslow Hall, Orono, Maine 04469, USA

Publication date: September 1, 2011

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