SURVEY: MEDIA ALONE CAN'T TEACH FOOD SAFETY

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. -- Changes in food safety practices in the home are most likely to come from education and intervention, not the media, according to a telephone survey conducted by Audits International, here.The poll, a follow-up to the firm's 1997 survey on the same topic, focused on a sample group of more than 100 people, 35 of whom participated in the original study; the rest were a control

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. -- Changes in food safety practices in the home are most likely to come from education and intervention, not the media, according to a telephone survey conducted by Audits International, here.

The poll, a follow-up to the firm's 1997 survey on the same topic, focused on a sample group of more than 100 people, 35 of whom participated in the original study; the rest were a control group described as "typical homemakers."

The survey sought to determine if the 35 original participants, who received a thorough review of their food-handling practices in 1997 and were offered suggestions for improvement, actually retained the knowledge and continued to exercise greater care in preparing foods at home than those who didn't receive the training.

The study found that, even though all of the respondents were equally aware of food-safety issues due to increased media coverage, only the members of the original study group were able to improve their overall food-safety habits.

"Everybody is aware of food safety. They all said that," said Richard Daniels, president of Audits International. "But, when it came down to measuring changes that people say they made, the ones who had [received] education and personal intervention in their homes made twice the number of changes as the normal person."

According to the 1997 survey results, consumers didn't "measure up" to the same set of standards followed by restaurants, where food-safety procedures are standardized. In fact, the survey found that participants only met Audits International's criteria for food safety and sanitation during meal preparation in the kitchen less than 1% of the time.

Daniels said that the only way people will change is through direct, hands-on training. He recommends that supermarkets continue to lend a hand by promoting programs that teach food safety.

In addition, he also cited motivation as a barrier which consumers must overcome in order to learn about proper food safety practices.

"The general attitude is, 'I've always done it this way, why change?,"' he said. "We don't know whether people are doing things incorrectly because they don't know what correct is, or because they are not motivated to change."

Presently, a second study examining food-safety practices is being prepared and will be released in either May or June, said Daniels. He said that the release of this second report will hopefully shed more light on why consumers fail to adapt new food-safety procedures.

"When people do things wrong [in this study] , we're trying to find out why," said Daniels. "Did they not know, did they not care, or were they confused? What really is going on?"