T8-06 Use of Focus Groups to Assess Consumer Knowledge and Behaviors Related to Safe Handling of Mechanically Tenderized and Enhanced Beef Products

Tuesday, August 2, 2016: 2:45 PM
242 (America's Center - St. Louis)
Lily Yang, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Minh Duong, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Benjamin Chapman, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Thomas Archibald, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Robert C. Williams, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Matthew Schroeder, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Nicole Arnold, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Renee Boyer, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Introduction: Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli [STEC] outbreaks associated with beef have been attributed to industry and consumer mishandling. While cooking and handling instructions are required on labels, the frequency of use and effectiveness of these messages are unknown. Mandatory labeling of mechanically-tenderized [MB] beef products begins in 2016.  Consumer knowledge of what MT beef products are and how to safely handle them is unknown.

Purpose: The objective of this study was to assess consumer knowledge about what MT beef products are and how they are/should be handled.

Methods: Sixteen focus groups were conducted in Virginia and North Carolina. Participants (n = 62) were asked about their beef purchasing, handling, and preparation choices and behaviors. In addition, their understanding of, attitude towards, and handling of MT beef was assessed. Finally, participants brainstormed ideas for how safety information could be effectively delivered to consumers. 

Results: Despite the safe handling instructions included on packaging, participants were unable to properly identify correct cooking instructions. All participants were aware they should use a thermometer, but only three actually did.  Cooking experience and personal preferences were cited as reasons for not using thermometers. Color was the main indicator of doneness, followed by touch, and time. Only two participants had knowledge of MTB; but, when prompted with descriptors, participants generally recognized previously purchasing MTB products. The primary theme from focus groups was that participants wanted more labeling and information. Upon learning more about MTB, participants were divided upon whether the knowledge would affect purchasing decision; but, noted its importance. Participants stressed the importance of word choices, honesty, and saliency in message delivery.   

Significance: These findings can be translated to develop more specifically targeted methods of safe handling communications to the public through understanding of their preferences. In a future study, intervention methods will be developed and evaluated.