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Americans Falling Behind on Proper Food Safety Practices

New International Food Information Council Foundation Research shows fewer people are taking food safety precautions at home, despite recent outbreaks

August 17, 2009

Foodborne illness outbreaks have been a regular feature in the news lately and are top of mind when consumers think of food and health issues, but new International Food Information Council Foundation research shows that fewer people are taking basic precautions that could significantly reduce their risk of becoming sick.

 

According to the Foundation’s fourth annual Food & Health Survey, more than half of Americans think foodborne illness from bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella, is the most important food safety issue today (52 percent).  While 95 percent say they take at least one food safety precaution when cooking, preparing and consuming food, the number of people taking various precautions is down for nearly every action from 2008:

 

  • Wash hands with soap and water (87 percent in 2009 vs. 92 percent in 2008)
  • Wash cutting boards with soap and water or bleach (77 percent in 2009 vs. 84 percent in 2008)
  • Cook food to required temperature (71 percent in 2009 vs. 76 percent in 2008)
  • Properly store leftovers within two hours of serving (69 percent in 2009 vs. 79 percent in 2008)
  • Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from ready-to-eat food products (63 percent in 2009 vs. 70 percent in 2008)

In addition, only 50 percent of Americans report using different or freshly cleaned cutting boards for each product (such as raw meat or poultry or produce) and only one in four use a food thermometer to check the doneness of meat and poultry items (25 percent).

 

Americans are also faring worse when it comes to following microwave cooking instructions in 2009:

  • Follow ALL the cooking instructions (68 percent in 2009 vs. 79 percent in 2008)
  • Flip, rotate or stir during the microwave cooking process (62 percent in 2009 vs. 72 percent in 2008)
  • Let food stand for appropriate time after microwaving (48 percent in 2009 vs. 58 percent in 2008)
  • Increase or decrease cooking times based on the wattage of my microwave (48 percent in 2009 vs. 58 percent in 2008)  

“It is impossible to overstate the importance of following proper food safety practices,” says David Schmidt, International Food Information Council Foundation CEO.  “Clearly Americans understand the need for these practices, but they still can do a better job of handling food properly at home, which potentially decreases the risk of foodborne illness.”

 

Confidence in and Perceived Responsibility for Ensuring a Safe Food Supply

Americans’ confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply remained stable in 2009, but still only 49 percent of consumers say they are confident in the safety of our food. (See video)  When asked who is responsible for food safety in the U.S. Americans look to food manufacturers (72 percent) and the government (72 percent) first, followed by farmers/producers (57 percent), retailers (49 percent)and consumers/individuals (41 percent). 

 

These findings are part of an extensive look at what Americans are doing regarding their eating and health habits in the fourth annual Food & Health Survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation.  The survey of 1,064 American adults was conducted over a two and a half-week period in February and March of 2009.

 

Other key findings from the 2009 Survey include:

 

Ø      The Impact of the Economy on Food and Beverage Purchases (See Video)

  • Price is having a bigger impact on consumers’ food and beverage purchasing decisions (74 percent in 2009 vs. 64 percent in 2006).
  • Consumers between the ages of 25 and 34 are most likely to say price is a major influencing factor.
  • Taste remains the biggest influence on purchasing decisions (87 percent) followed by healthfulness (61 percent) and convenience (52 percent).

 

Ø      Top Impacts on Americans’ Health (See Video)

  • Consumers believe exercising has the biggest impact on their health (80 percent) ranking ahead of making healthful food choices (66 percent) and managing weight (53 percent).
  • Americans rate their health status very high (81 percent as “excellent,” “very good” or “good,”), but far less (58 percent) are “somewhat” or “extremely satisfied” with their health status indicating that they think they could do better.
  • Nearly two in three (64 percent) are trying to improve the healthfulness of what they eat with the top reasons being to improve overall well-being (64 percent),  improve physical health and lose weight (both 61 percent).

 

Ø      Dieting and Weight Management (See Video)

  • Consumers are confused by calories:

o       Less than one third of Americans (30 percent) correctly say that “calories in general are most likely to cause weight gain.”

o       Just 15 percent of Americans are able to provide an accurate estimate of the number of calories they should be consuming.

o       Still, calories remain number one on the list of things people look at on the Nutrition Facts panel of food and beverage packages (75 percent).

  • Seventy-eight percent of Americans say they’re trying to lose or maintain their weight.
  • Those trying to lose weight say they’re most encouraged by “improvement in physical appearance” (69 percent); “improvement in health/overall well-being” (67 percent); “increased self-esteem” (49 percent); and “increased energy” (49 percent) among others.

 

The 2009 Food & Health Survey also covers consumer attitudes toward meal occasions, dietary fats, carbohydrates and sugars, foods and beverages with added health and wellness benefits, low-calorie sweeteners, caffeine, food additives and colors, awareness and use of government-sponsored programs such as MyPyramid, and use of the Nutrition Facts panel and other forms of food and beverage labeling.

 

For a copy of the entire survey and other resources for journalists and bloggers please visit ific.org or contact the Foundation media team at 202-296-6540 or media@ific.org.

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