Meat and poultry processors and consumer education

December 12, 2011
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In a recent study by Phang and Bruhn (Journal of Food Protection, 2011) only 4% of volunteers used a meat thermometer for checking burger doneness; only 13% knew the recommended internal temperature for ground beef; and the average hand-washing time for the volunteers was 8 seconds.
Hand Washing

Likewise, according to the 2011 International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation Food and Health Survey, “although 8 in 10 Americans report following general and basic safe food handling practices, the numbers continue to decline, for example with washing hands with soap and water before handling food (79% in 2011; 89% in 2010; 92% in 2008).”

Such studies suggest that consumer education needs to be incorporated into a processor’s food-safety efforts. Food processors need to augment the work that government agencies, meat and poultry trade associations, consumer advocate organizations, and university extension agencies are doing to educate consumers regarding the safe handling of products, especially raw products.

Simple steps, such as hand-washing, preventing cross-contamination during preparation, proper cooking using a meat thermometer and prompt chilling of leftovers, are additional steps for consumers to utilize that can maintain food safety that was delivered at the processing establishment.

Larger meat and poultry companies may have information on their Web site or a company spokesperson to assist with food-safety education. However, it is unclear how many companies contribute information on this aspect of food safety. Simple steps can be taken by establishments of all sizes to incorporate food-safety education as a component of their food-safety system.

For example, establishments can take advantage of the recent efforts of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in presenting a new Ad Council Campaign on Food Safety Education. The materials are available at: http://foodsafety.adcouncil.org/.

The Ad Council Campaign materials include a toolkit that provides information on how to share the public service announcements included in the campaign with local public service directors. There are also suggestions regarding how to get the materials included on the local radio station or in the local newspaper.

The Ad Council Campaign materials also include downloads for outreach e-mails, banners for your Web site, and even ideas for food-safety programs that can be conducted at local schools.

Consumer education does not replace the responsibility of producing safe food at the establishment. Further, there are clearly many entities with a primary responsibility for educating consumers. However, data suggests there is more work to do, and in fact the challenge is getting greater in reaching the consumers. Producing food safety is priority one; consumer education can and should be a complementary role for food processors.

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