Published April 28 2009

U of M Extension study finds consumers concerned about produce food safety

Source of Article:  http://www.inforum.com/event/article/id/238907/

 

ST. PAUL – University of Minnesota Extension food safety educators wondered if the incidence of foodborne illness outbreaks affected consumer produce purchasing habits, as well as how they handled produce after purchase.

ST. PAUL – University of Minnesota Extension food safety educators wondered if the incidence of foodborne illness outbreaks affected consumer produce purchasing habits, as well as how they handled produce after purchase.

To answer these questions, educators conducted a study in Stearns and Benton counties in July 2008. Interviews were conducted at four grocery stores and four farmers markets with 200 patrons participating in the study.

Consumers were asked about their confidence level in the U.S. food supply in general. When purchasing produce, do they consider how or where it is grown (conventionally, locally or organically)?

Safe food handling practices were also evaluated, including washing ready-to-eat bagged produce, handwashing practices before and after washing produce and washing produce procedures. Two questions evaluated purchasing preferences related to production practices.

Study results found:

– 41 percent are confident the food supply in the United States is safe to eat.

– 53 percent said they were concerned. Reasons for concern included “food imported from other countries and contaminants that could possibly be on them,” “food being handled by so many people” and “rise in the number of foodborne illness incidents.”

– 56 percent consider how or where produce is grown before purchasing it.

– 65 percent look for locally grown food.

– 15 percent look for organically grown foods.

– 20 percent look for both locally and organically grown foods.

– 60 percent of organic food purchasers buy organics because they believe these products are “chemical free.” 35 percent of those purchasing organic foods purchase more than they did one year ago.

– 40 percent do not purchase organic. The most cited reason for not purchasing them was related to expense.

– Handwashing is considered important to prevent spread of foodborne illness and is especially important when handling produce since many of these items are eaten raw. 75 percent of participants report washing hands before washing produce, while only 45 percent washed their hands after washing produce.

- Washing fruits and vegetables is recommended before preparation or eating; 72 percent surveyed reported following the current recommended practice of washing produce under running tap water. Twenty percent use dish soap, which is not a recommended practice. Fruit and vegetables are very absorbent and will absorb any detergent or bleach used to wash them.

– 53 percent of grocery store patrons wash prepackaged produce items labeled “ready-to-eat” before eating them. Washing these items is not needed or recommended due to the risk of contamination from an unsanitized sink or equipment.

Suzanne Driessen is a food safety educator with University of Minnesota Extension. Driessen acknowledges Melissa Schwinghammer, University of Minnesota Extension, summer 2008 intern, for her contribution to this study and article.

 

 

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