Purpose: A set of evidence-based guidelines was created and implemented in food pantries using outreach and extension principles and this research evaluated the guidelines for effectiveness.
Methods: Using the Theory of Planned Behavior as a framework, a pre- and post-intervention evaluation was executed. On-site managerial interviews and observations based on a modified standardized inspection were carried out in 60 urban, rural, and suburban food pantries in 12 North Carolina counties that met the study criteria. A randomized sample of 30 food pantry managers was provided an online intervention designed to provide reasoning and strategies for reducing foodborne illness risk. A difference-in-difference model was used to examine if the provision of online information improved food safety behaviors.
Results: Two hand-hygiene related actions (no bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods and handwashing sink availability) revealed statistically significant differences for pantries that are food bank partners (P<0.10) compared to independently-operated sites. Food bank partners were also likelier to have and use thermometers in the refrigerators and freezers (P<0.01). For those who definitively viewed the online guidelines, the managers were more likely to have requirements for their food suppliers and regularly provide recall information.
Significance: Though they worked in the past, online food safety guidelines do not work for all populations. The results reveal that there remains room for improvement in the provision of food safety information, as the pantry managers had little incentive to view the guidelines online. Without operational change, the food pantries will continue to indulge in risky behavior that effects a vulnerable population.