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Improving Consumers Preparedness to Respond to Emergencies and Foodborne Bioterrorism


The objectives of this project are to examine consumers knowledge and use of recommended practices for preparing and responding to emergencies and foodborne bioterrorism, develop consumer educational materials with information on recommended practices for food defense and emergency preparedness, disseminate the educational materials and evaluate the effectiveness of the materials at improving consumers knowledge and use of recommended practices for food defense and emergency preparedness, and develop, implement, and evaluate educational modules for classroom training of undergraduate students on food defense and emergency preparedness for consumers.

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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Natural disasters and any event leading to loss of electrical power can endanger the safety of food. Also, concerns about foodborne bioterrorism have been heightened in recent years. Consumers need to be prepared for such emergencies and the possibility of foodborne bioterrorism in order to have food available and keep food safe. This project will assess the extent to which consumers are following the recommended practices for food defense and emergency preparedness and explore the barriers and motivators to adopting the recommended practices. This information will help identify areas in which there are gaps in consumers knowledge and behavior, and provide valuable information for developing targeted educational materials to address these gaps.

APPROACH: The proposed study will include formative research to examine consumers knowledge and use of recommended practices for preparing and responding to emergencies and foodborne bioterrorism, including conducting focus groups with consumers and conducting a nationally representative Web-enabled panel survey. Based on the research findings, we will develop targeted consumer educational materials and disseminate and evaluate the materials with a sample of consumers from the Web-enabled panel. We will also disseminate the materials to consumers in Tennessee through TSUs cooperative extension program and make the materials available to other educators. Additionally, we will develop, implement, and evaluate undergraduate educational modules on consumer food defense and emergency preparedness. This study will help improve available educational materials and consumers preparedness to respond to emergencies and foodborne bioterrorism and thus help reduce the risk for foodborne illness.

PROGRESS: 2007/09 TO 2008/09 <BR>
OUTPUTS: To help us understand consumers food safety knowledge and practices during extended power outages and to evaluate the effectiveness of existing educational materials, we conducted six focus groups with 47 adults. Results from the focus groups were used to develop an extensive questionnaire. To learn more about how Americans prepare for and respond to extended power outages (24 hours or more) and other emergencies, we conducted a nationally representative web-enabled survey using the questionnaire developed after the focus groups. 1,011 household grocery shoppers responded. <BR>
PARTICIPANTS: Project directors included Sandria Godwin of Tennessee State University, Sheryl Cates of RTI International, Richard Coppings of Jackson State Community College and Leslie Speller Henderson of Tennessee State University. Lou Pearson of Tennessee State University served as an Associate Investigator and Katherine Kosa of RTI International was a Senior Associate. Focus groups were conducted at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tennessee and the Cooperative Extension Office in Trenton, Tennessee. Staff of those locations assisted with recruiting. <BR>
TARGET AUDIENCES: 47 consumers in Tennessee and North Carolina reviewed educational materials about being prepared for emergencies that affect food. They discussed the content of the brochures and pamphlets and talked about whether they would follow these recommendations or not. They were allowed to keep the materials and seemed eager to place them in locations where they could be easily reached. They also indicated that they would be sharing the information with their friends and relatives. The makeup of the focus groups was diverse, including males anf females of various ages, caucasians and african americans, and persons living in urban and rural areas.

IMPACT: 2007/09 TO 2008/09<BR>

The focus group findings suggest that many participants are not prepared to handle food safely during or after extended power outages. Few participants were prepared for their most recent extended power outage, and most participants had not taken additional measures to prepare for a future outage. To determine the safety of food during or after a power outage, some participants relied on their senses, a potentially unsafe practice. Barriers to not following recommended practices included unawareness of specific recommendations, not believing specific recommendations, procrastination, cost, and limited space for storing emergency supplies. Motivators to following the recommended practices included concerns about contracting foodborne illness, if the message was believable, and recently experiencing an extended power outage. Participants generally found the educational materials discussed in the groups to be informative and useful and preferred the more comprehensive booklet format. Most survey respondents are not prepared in the event of an extended power outage. 39 percent have taken no special steps to be prepared, 28 percent have done some things but could do more to be prepared, and 18 percent have done a lot but are not fully prepared. Only 15 percent reported being fully prepared. Despite saying they are not very prepared, 40 percent of respondents reported they have a 3 day supply of non-perishable food and drinking water stored for each household member in the event of an emergency. Awareness of specific government recommendations varied. Almost all respondents (97 percent) had read or heard to keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain cold temperatures, while only 33 percent had read or heard to not eat refrigerated perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, milk, eggs, and deli items after 4 hours without power. After reading the recommendations, the majority of respondents reported they would be very likely or likely to follow the recommendations in the future. Most respondents are not concerned about a terrorist attack on the U.S. food supply in the next 10 years. As a result, only 37 percent reported that they would be very or somewhat prepared for such an event.

Godwin, Sandria
Tennessee State University
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