Purpose: Knowledge regarding consumer perceptions of food safety risk of ready-to-eat (RTE) foods in retail food establishments is lacking. The goal of this study was to understand perceptions, food safety attitudes, and self-reported behaviors related to observed food safety hazards of consumers who shop at grocery stores.
Methods: A nationally representative online survey was administered in January 2016 to 517 pre-screened participants. The survey presented questions about self-reported behavior in food safety risk situations, foodborne illness experiences, food preparation practices, and demographics. Participants were presented with 12 photos portraying i) cross-contamination, ii) temperature control, iii) hygiene, and iv) sanitation supplemented with commonly perceived food safety risks and asked to identify what they saw, whether it was safe or unsafe, and what actions they would take.
Results: Respondents identified risks factors in 6 out of 9 actual risk photos over half of the time: poor produce storage sanitation (87%, n=448), cross-contamination during meat slicing (85%, n=438), bare-hand contact of RTE food (65%, n=340), separation of raw and RTE food (63%, n=323), cross-contamination from serving utensils (60%, n=312), and incorrect storage temperature (51%, n=262). The majority (>50%) of participants also reported non-risk factor perceived risks as unsafe or very unsafe in terms of food safety.
Significance: Misperceptions of food safety risk exist among consumers. The results of this survey will be triangulated with shopper behaviors using observation methodologies and form the foundation for communication interventions for consumers and retail food safety professionals, with the goal of improved hazard and risk identification.