Studies show consumers need more flour safety education

Studies show consumers need more flour safety education

by Sue Jones
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Two recent studies published by the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP)  on flour indicate that U.S. consumers need more education on how to use flour safely.

The first study, titled “Consumption of Raw Flour in the United States: Results from the 2019 U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Safety and Nutrition Survey,” shows that U.S. consumers are largely unaware that raw flour is risky to eat and many people are consuming foods that contain raw flour. However, the extent to which consumers are unaware of the risk of consuming raw flour is still unclear.

Several E. coli outbreaks in the past decade have been linked to raw flour and flour-associated products, raising concerns that the consumption of raw flour represents a public health risk.

In fall 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration collected data on perceptions regarding uncooked flour and on self-reported consumption behaviors via the Food Safety and Nutrition Survey.

Key findings:

  • Thirty-five percent of consumers reported having tasted or eaten something with uncooked flour in it — such as cake batter or cookie dough — in the previous year. Responses differed significantly by sex, race, education and age. 
  • On average, respondents indicated that uncooked flour is not likely to contain germs that can make people sick, with significant differences noted by demographic categories. 
  • Respondents rated raw homemade cookie dough as moderately likely to have germs that can make people sick, with significant demographic differences. 
  • Most U.S. consumers do not consider uncooked flour as risky to consume.

The full study can be found here.

Flour mentions on the web
The second study, titled “Online Media Attention Devoted to Flour and Flour-Related Food Safety in 2017 to 2020,” analyzed how the U.S. public, in social and online media spaces, referenced “flour” and its use.

The study found that the volume of mentions about flour and its use fluctuate seasonally, often increasing ahead of the winter holiday season.

According to the study, the volume of interest rapidly increased in March 2020 when stay-at-home orders were issued. The share of media devoted to flour-related food safety risks or associated illness was extremely small but generally corresponded with flour recall announcements or other public risk communications. 

The study concluded that the interest in flour and its use remains seasonal and related to societal trends, such as increased baking at home during the holidays or stay-at-home orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, awareness of flour-related food safety risks seems largely absent on the basis of online media data collection and analysis, except in immediate reactions to flour recalls. 

The study suggests that more flour safety education programs may be desired to support consumers’ informed decision-making.

More key findings:

  • Food safety does not make up a significant portion of online media reactions to flour.
  • The small number of mentions coincide with unawareness of flour-borne illness.
  • Online media sentiment about flour is negatively linked to flour-borne illnesses.

The full study can be found here.

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