Consumer Perceptions of the Safety of Ready-to-Eat Foods in Retail Food Store Settings
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To better understand how consumers perceive food safety risks in retail food store settings, a survey was administered to 1,041 nationally representative participants in which they evaluated food safety risk depicted in selected photographs and self-reported their perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors. Participants were shown 12 photographs taken at retail stores portraying either commonly perceived or actual food safety contributing factors, such as cross-contamination, product and equipment temperatures, worker hygiene, and/or store sanitation practices. Participants were then asked to specifically identify what they saw, comment as to whether what they saw was safe or unsafe, and articulate what actions they would take in response to these situations. In addition to the survey, focus groups were subsequently employed to supplement findings with qualitative data. Survey respondents identified risk factors for 6 of 9 actual contributing factor photographs over 50% of the time: poor produce storage sanitation (86%, n=899), cross-contamination during meat slicing (72%, n=750), bare-hand contact of ready-to-eat (RTE) food in the deli area (67%, n=698), separation of raw and RTE food in the seafood case (63%, n=660), cross-contamination from serving utensils in the deli case (62%, n=644), and incorrect product storage temperature (51%, n=528). On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very unsafe and 5 being very safe, there was a statistically significant difference between average risk perception scores for actual contributing factor (score of ca. 2.5) compared to perceived contributing factor (score of ca. 2.0) photographs. Themes from the focus groups supported the results of the survey and provided additional insight into consumer food safety risk perceptions. The results of this study inform communication interventions for consumers and retail food safety professionals aimed at improving hazard identification.