Consumers becoming more aware A recent food safety survey showed many improvements in consumer behavior, awareness, and risk perception, said Carol Pitts, Extension nutrition, health, and food safety specialist at South Dakota State University.
Findings from this 1998 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) Consumer Food Safety Survey were compared to two previous surveys taken in 1988 and 1993.
Some of the most dramatic changes concern consumers' knowledge of microbes, said Pitts. "People are much more aware of bacteria and microbes and that the potential for foodborne illness can be carried in foods," she reported.
People also have a greater understanding of the dangers of leaving potentially hazardous foods out at room temperature and what can happen with bacterial growth in these hazardous types of foods. Pitts defined hazardous foods as those that contain protein and moisture and then are left in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
"In 1988, 20 percent of those surveyed thought meat left at room temperature for more than two hours was safe, whereas today, only 8 percent of consumers are making that mistake," she said.
Consumers seem to understand the importance of thorough cooking, but only 2 to 14 percent of those in the last survey actually reported using food thermometers when cooking meats.
A difficult issue to some consumers is the existence of high risk groups for foodborne illness. In this survey, nearly two-thirds of consumers were not aware of any risk groups.
Risk groups include the very young, the elderly, people who are already ill and pregnant women, Pitts said.