Link and logo to the Food Safety and Inspection Service Home Page United States Department of Agriculture
Food Safety and Inspection Service
Office of Policy and Program Development
Washington, DC  20250-3700

REGULATIONS AND DIRECTIVES DEVELOPMENT


Consumer Attitudes and Behaviors Regarding Ready-to-Eat Foods

Susan Conley
Director, Food Safety Education
Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Planning Food Safety Education...

  •  New & Emerging Scientific Data
  •  Consumer Behavior Research
  •  Social Marketing for Behavior Change
  •  Outreach and Partnerships

Sources of Consumer Information

  •  Quantitative -- Population Surveys
  •  Qualitative -- Focus Groups
  •  Anecdotal -- Meat and Poultry Hotline

“Changes in Consumer Knowledge, Behavior, and Confidence Since the 1996 PR/HACCP Final Rule”

  • Consumer’s knowledge and use of food safety practices is growing
  • They have increased knowledge about foodborne pathogens and risks
  • Have increased knowledge of at-risk population, but some knowledge gaps exist

Report Findings

  • They are more cautious when handling and preparing meat and poultry at home
  • They attribute behavior changes to information provided by the media
  • Consumers are confident in themselves and the food supply
  • Although knowledge and self-reported use of safe handling practices has increased, consumers still make mistakes when handling food

Consumer Awareness Increasing

  • Consumer Awareness of Listeria:
  • 1993 - 9%
  • 1998 - 14%
  • 2001 - 31%

Refrigerator Temperatures

  • 67% of consumers do not own a refrigerator thermometer (FSIS)
  • 60% do not know proper refrigerator temperature (ADA, ConAgra)
  • 29% have refrigerator air temperature higher than 40 degrees F; 7% are higher than 45 F (Utah State University)

Consumers Rely on Food Labels for Food Safety Information

  • In focus groups, consumers report using food labels for information
    • Confusion about use-by, sell-by and expiration dates
  • In 1999 Penn State study, 85% of respondents report regularly checking expiration dates on perishable foods

Consumer Handing -- Ready-to-Eat Foods*

  • How long do you usually keep cooked meats, such as roasts, stews in the refrigerator and still eat them?

    • 1-3 Days - 71%
    • 4-7 Days - 24%
    • 8-14 Days - 1%
    • More than 3 weeks - <1%
    • Other - 3%
       
  • How long do you usually keep opened packages of cold cuts in the refrigerator and then eat them?

    • 1-3 Days - 31%
    • 4-7 Days - 47%
    • 8-14 Days - 8%
    • More than 2-3 weeks - 2%
    • More than 3 weeks - <1%
    • Other - 10%
  • How long do you usually keep opened packages of hot dogs in the refrigerator and then eat them?

  • 1-3 Days - 34%
  • 4-7 Days - 34%
  • 8-14 Days - 6%
  • More than 2-3 weeks - 1%
  • More than 3 weeks - 1%
  • Keep in Freezer - 13%
  • Other - 12%
  • In the past 12 months, did you eat any hot dogs without further cooking, that is, straight from the package?

    • Yes - 15%
    • No - 84%
    • Don’t know/Refused - <1%

    *2001 FDA/FSIS Food Safety Survey

Consumer Handing -- Ready-to-Eat Foods*

  • Consumers keep soft cheeses longer than they keep meats; 36% do not buy high risk cheeses
  • 69% keep deli salads in the refrigerator 3 days or less; 24% use them within 4-7 days

Calls to USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline about Listeria

  • Calls about Listeria have increased 245% in 2002
    • 167 calls specifically about Listeria
    • 1,308 calls about products recalled with Lm
  •  Callers ask general questions about risk factors and illness symptoms
  •  Ask about actions to take if a product is recalled
  •  Ask if cooking will destroy Listeria and about safety of lunchmeat and hot dogs
  •  Pregnant women ask about risks and what products to avoid
  • Calls from health professionals, caregivers and dietitians increasing

Focus Groups With Pregnant Women

  • Objectives:
     
    • Test and refine existing FSIS food safety messages on listeriosis
    • Identify effective delivery mechanisms
    • Obtain additional information on pregnant women’s food safety knowledge and behavior
       
  • Study Design
     
    • 8 focus groups in 4 locations
    • High school educated & college educated
    • Racial diversity
    • Prepare meals
    • Non-vegetarian
    • Eat luncheon meats, hot dogs, deli salads, or deli spreads/pâtés

Focus Groups with Pregnant Women -- Key Findings

  • Confident in ability to handle food safely, but don’t always follow safe practices when cooking at home
    • Do not use a thermometer
    • Do not refrigerate leftovers immediately
  • Unfamiliar with Listeria monocytogenes
    • Also unfamiliar with Campylobacter
    • Aware of E. coli and Salmonella
  • Not aware that pregnant women are at high-risk for foodborne illness
  • Obstetrician (or other health care provider) does not provide food safety information
  • Have not made any food handling changes since becoming pregnant because they were careful before becoming pregnant

Consumption Patterns

  •  81% eat hot dogs during pregnancy
  •  95% eat luncheon meats
  •  Some report consuming risky foods
    • raw cookie dough
    • soft cheese
    • dishes with raw or undercooked eggs

Storage of Hot Dogs and Luncheon Meats

  • 80% store unopened packages of hot dogs in the refrigerator for two weeks or less
  • 88% store opened packages for 7 days or less

Preparation and storage of hot dogs and luncheon meats

  • Do not know to reheat hot dogs and luncheon meats and avoid certain cheeses and other foods
  • Don’t know to cover hot dogs when microwaving
  • Some do eat hot dogs cold
  • Do not observe recommended storage times for luncheon meats

Evaluation of FSIS Listeriosis Brochure

  • Liked the brochure, found it informative and easy to understand
  • Had specific suggestions for changes
  • Want a brochure especially for pregnant women -- with a very specific title
     

Pregnant women are likely to change behavior when they have the information!!!


Delivery Mechanisms for Listeria Education Materials

  • Best way to inform pregnant women is through their doctors!!!
  • Suggested dissemination through books, magazines and Web sites on prenatal care
  • Need to also increase awareness in general population

Key Recommendations

  •  Educate obstetricians and other health care providers to inform patients
  •  Revise current materials to be more direct about risks
  •  Disseminate information widely in channels specific to pregnant women and the public

Partnership Formed to Educate Pregnant Women

  • Federal Government -- FSIS, FDA, CDC
  • IFIC
  • AWHONN
  • The Partnership for Food Safety Education
  • Reaching out to ACOG

Listeria Facts for Pregnant Women

  • Tear-pads of 25 sheets for doctor’s offices
  • Over 220,000 pads distributed to date
  • Available in English and Spanish

Efforts underway to reach low-literacy consumers, the Hispanic population and other targeted audiences

 

[Back to Related Documents]

 

For Further Information Contact:
Food Safety and Inspection Service
Regulations and Directives Development Staff
Telephone:  202-720-5627
Fax:  202-690-0486
E-mail:
  FSIS.Regulations@fsis.usda.gov

FSIS is in the process of developing a mechanism for electronic submittal of comments via e-mail -- stay posted.

 

Send mail to webmaster  with questions or comments about this web site.
Last modified: January 10, 2003