Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How much does Joe Sixpack know about food safety?

Recently, we ran a small competition for attendees at a public food expo.  They had to enter answers to questions on food safety knowledge set by a computer.  The machine stored the answers and we drew a prize from those who got them all right.  Incidentally, we used this as an educational opportunity by giving immediate feedback on the answers entered.

Though the survey was not statistically valid, I analysed the responses.  The results were largely unsurprising - approximately 65 to 75 percent of responses were correct for most questions.

However, a third of respondents didn't know which food poisoning bacterium (Campylobacter) causes the most food poisoning in New Zealand, despite extensive coverage in the news media over the past two years.  A third also incorrectly identified pesticide residues as more important than packaging failure in causing human foodborne disease, and again, a third thought that it was illegal to sell food past its "best before" date.  Only a quarter of respondents knew that it is legal to sell raw milk in New Zealand.

It was pleasing to see that 97 percent of respondents knew that refrigeration would not stop the growth of all bacteria in food, and 80 percent understood that irradiation is not a means for unscrupulous manufacturers to make spoiled food appear fresh.

Of more concern was the belief by 80 percent of respondents that chicken can be regarded as cooked if the juice runs clear when the thigh meat is pricked, and 28 percent of respondents thought that if it were safe to eat a rare steak, it was also safe to eat hamburger rare.

It seems that we still have some way to go in educating our population about safe food handling and consumption.