FSA studies public’s differing food safety attitudes

FSA studies public’s differing food safety attitudes

by Sue Jones
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The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom has published research into how attitudes and behaviors on food safety vary between different audiences.

Food and You survey data was used to create seven groups based on people’s attitudes about food and their reported hygiene and food safety behaviors.

The FSA said it was important to find out how approaches relating to food safety differ to understand who is more likely to take risks and in what context. This helps effective communications and to shape food safety policy.

“Refuellers” have low levels of trust in the FSA and are the least likely to follow food safety practices for cleanliness, cooking, chilling, and preventing cross-contamination.

People in this group have the lowest recognition of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) at 67 percent, versus the average of 87 percent, and are the least likely to use these scores. They are the least likely to know the recommended refrigeration temperatures and to check use-by dates before cooking or preparing food.

Sixty percent of people in this bracket are single, separated or divorced, 41 percent have no qualifications and 21 percent are older than 75.

Behavior when eating out and at home
People in the “grab and go-ers” segment are likely to have good recognition of FHRS but a below-average proportion say the scores are important. They are also generally less aware about hygiene when buying food to eat out.

They understand use-by dates but a below average proportion follow guidelines around chilling and cleanliness. There are more men in this group and 39 percent are aged between 16 and 34 years old.

“Humble home cooks” have high levels of cleanliness and are more likely to follow recommendations around washing hands and food to be eaten raw, including fruit and vegetables.

However, they are less likely to follow advice around cooking, chilling and prevention of cross-contamination. They are more likely to wash raw chicken and meat, which public health officials say increases danger. They have lower than average levels of recognition of FHRS and average trust in the FSA.

This is the most ethnically diverse group with the highest proportion of people belonging to non-Christian religions.

“Confident cookaholics” are the most likely to follow the advised practices. They have good knowledge about food safety, storage practices and handwashing and understand the importance of avoiding cross-contamination. They are the most likely to know the correct refrigerator  temperature and check it at least once a month.

People in this group are the most likely to use different chopping boards for raw and cooked foods and to usually defrost meat and fish in the refrigerator.

They have good recognition of FHRS and are likely to use hygiene rating scores when choosing a place to eat out. They also have high levels of trust in the FSA. Nearly three quarters of people in this group are married or living with someone and 61 percent are female.

Other three categories
“Frequent foodies” have high levels of FHRS recognition and are more likely than average to use hygiene scores when eating out. When cooking at home, they have better than average understanding of hygiene and good knowledge of cross-contamination.

People in this group are slightly younger than average, with a higher proportion aged 16 to 34 and the majority are from a white background.

“Decadent diners” have the highest recognition of FHRS and a high level of trust in the FSA. They are more likely to not reheat food more than once but have lower than average levels of hand washing before preparing food.

More than half do not use different chopping boards for raw and cooked foods but two thirds know chopping boards need to be washed to avoid cross-contamination. These people have the highest income and top level of qualifications of all the groups.

“Conventional cooks” are less likely to check use-by dates, eat pink burgers or know the recommended refrigerator temperature. However, they have above-average levels of handwashing, are more likely to ensure food is thoroughly cooked and to wash fruit and vegetables.

They have low recognition of FHRS and are less likely to say the scores are important when choosing where to eat out. It is the oldest audience group with a quarter aged 65 to 74.

Food safety communication
Another piece of research looked at behavioral drivers and attitudes to communicating food safety messages and how these may vary by audiences.

This study found attitudes and individual experiences around food varied and there were differences in the extent to which risks around preparing, handling and storage were thought about.

Clarity and credibility of messages was important. Providing clear rationale for safe food behaviors, practical and easy guidance and referencing scientific information can all help to engage people.

People were more concerned about food safety if they had previous experience of food poisoning personally or from friends and family. Communications that sought an emotional response to motivate change were met with mixed responses.

Findings suggested cultural differences in food safety practices. Participants from ethnic minority backgrounds recognized behaviors they described as different from those generally recommended such as washing chicken and reheating rice. Such actions have been present for generations without the perception of adverse consequences so questioning them could impact the credibility of food safety messaging.

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