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Food Safety and Handling Behavior of Rural Consumers in the Southern Black Belt Region of the United States

Adu-Nyako, Kofi
North Carolina A&T State University
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The main goal of this project is to obtain information on food safety concerns, knowledge and behavior of rural and low income consumers in the Black Belt Region. The specific objectives are:
  1. To determine the food safety attitudes, perceptions, awareness and knowledge of rural and low income consumers in the Black Belt Region;
  2. To determine the extent to which attitudinal, demographic and socioeconomic characteristics are related to reported food safety behavior- food handling practices, food consumption, food purchase and thermometer use;
  3. To identify implications of the research results for design and targeting of food safety education for the targeted region.
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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: The literature currently available on food safety attitudes and behavior is of limited use in designing food safety education for the Southern Black Belt. A survey of rural and low income consumers food safety attitudes, perception and behavior will be undertaken. An analysis of the demographic and socioeconomic influences on safe handling behavior will be conducted.

APPROACH: Telephone and personal interviews will be used to conduct a survey of rural and low income consumers safety attitudes, perceptoins, knowledge and behavior. Descriptive nd multivariate statistical methods will be employed to identify socioeconomic and demographic determinants of food safety behavior.

PROGRESS: 2000/10 TO 2003/09
US foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses and 5000 deaths annually (Mead et. al.,1999). Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma are responsible for more than 75% of deaths. In addition E. coli presents substantial risk to the consumer from food contaminated with this pathogen. E. coli contamination of undercooked hamburgers has been implicated in a number foodborne illness outbreaks. The 1996 changes to inspection regulations were intended to reduce the probability of pathogen contamination. Yet safe handling and thorough cooking is also required to kill any bacteria that may remain on foods and prevent cross-contamination. According to the CDC (1997) the two most commonly reported food preparation practices that contribute to outbreaks of foodborne diseases are improper holding temperatures and personal hygiene of the food handler. Consumers can protect themselves by applying specific self protective measures. Thus the 'Fight BAC' and the 'Thermy' campaigns to increase awareness in the use of thermometers in food preparation to encourage consumers to protect themselves from foodborne illness. The design and targeting of effective food safety education requires identification of demographic factors associated with unsafe food handling behavior and an understanding of the motivating attitudes that contribute to adoption of safe behaviors for specific population groups. We seek to answer questions such as who uses thermometers in food preparation, has the rate use of food thermometers changed post 2000 thermometer use education campaign and does thermometer use matter. Specifically, using survey data collected in 1998 and data collected in 2004 we identify and compare consumer attitudes and barriers to using food thermometers, analyze the determinants of thermometer use in food preparation, and assess whether thermometer use impact consumer safe handling practices. We use bivariate crosstabulation analysis to identify associations between thermometer use and sociodemographic variables and between a measure of safe handling behavior and thermometer use. To analyze the determinants of food safety behavior we employ as a conceptual framework the Health Belief Model (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980). This model has been used by consumer behavior researchers and others to explain health preventive behaviors including food safety behavior (Schafer et al., 1993). We model thermometer use as function of risk perception, attitudes, illness experience, and individual social and demographic variables. Thermometer use for three different food sizes large roast, chicken, and hamburger were modeled We employ Heckman's two stage estimation methods to control for possible sample selection bias in thermometer use. Results indicate that males, and blacks and are less likely to use thermometers in food preparation. On the other hand persons having prior foodborne illness experience, and knowledgeable about foodborne illness vectors were more likely to use food thermometers in cooking meat. Being married, educated and having higher income were also likely factors to predispose one to use food thermometers in cooking.

IMPACT: 2000/10 TO 2003/09
Improper handling of food can result in consumers contracting foodborne illness. Use of thermometers in food preparation can help reduce the incidence of foodborne illness contracted from eating undercooked meat. Many consumers however do not use food thermometers in cooking food. Knowledge of who uses or does not use thermometers will aid in targeting consumer food safety education to those segments of the population needing education. Result indicating racial and other demograhic differences in the attitudes towards food safety risk and use of thermometers in food preparation may imply the need to tailor and target educational messages to specific demographic groups more likely to be at risk. The positive association between foodborne illness experience and the likelihood of using thermometer is suggestive of the need for educational messages to stress the threat factor.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
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Bacterial Pathogens
Natural Toxins
Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication
Meat, Poultry, Game