Assessment of consumers' knowledge, attitudes, awareness, and beliefs of food handling and beef safety handling behaviors
Yang, Lily L.
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Consumers desire tender, juicy, and flavorful cuts of beef. Mechanical tenderization (MT) and enhancement methods applied to lower valued beef cuts can improve tenderness, flavor or juiciness, increasing desirability for the consumer. However, these processes can introduce pathogens that may be present on the exterior of the meat into the sterile interior. This process renders an ‘intact’ product ‘non-intact’ and requires altered cooking methods to ensure safety. The primary pathogens of concern for beef products are Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC). STEC are associated with approximately 265,000 illnesses and 3,600 hospitalizations annually. Since 2006, there have been 6 STEC outbreaks in the United States and 18 cases in Canada attributed to MT beef (MTB). The pathogen has also been implicated in 136 non-intact beef-related recalls. Due to the potential food safety hazards associated with MTB, mandatory labeling of these products was mandated in 2015 to inform consumers on how to safely handle the product. While this is a good step to inform consumers, it is unclear how familiar they are with the terms associated with these processes. Consumer’s knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, awareness, and behaviors related to MTBs is quite limited. This study uses an exploratory sequential mixed-methods design, to assess consumer knowledge of MTB. Qualitative focus groups conducted throughout urban and rural North Carolina and Virginia found that although participants purchased MTBs, they were unaware of the process, did not prepare MTBs properly, wanted to know more about the process, and wanted applicable risk messages. A nationwide survey developed from the focus group findings found that demographic differences were associated with knowledge of; and how participants interact with MTBs. How demographics influence consumer’s beef safety knowledge, practices, and risky behaviors was further explored. Demographic characteristics were highly correlated with consumers’ behaviors surrounding beef storage, refrigerator temperature knowledge, defrosting behaviors, meat washing, and meat preparation behaviors. Collectively, the mixed methods research design provided insight into specific demographic characteristics related to consumer attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors surrounding beef safety. This data will help inform the development of well-crafted, culturally, and socially relevant risk messaging that may promote safe handling behaviors.
General Audience Abstract
In the United States, every year, the Center for Disease Control estimates that 48M people are sickened, 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 people die from foodborne illnesses. The most common illnesses arise from Salmonella, Norovirus, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli [E. coli], Listeria, and Clostridium perfringens; these bacteria and viruses have been on the news as being associated with flour recalls, cantaloupe, eggs, cheeses, berries, and even at restaurants like Chipotle! The bacteria of concern in this study is E. coli. Most E. coli is not pathogenic, and extremely common in the environment; living in mammalian (e.g. humans, cows, sheep, insects, etc.) gut and within the environment (e.g. in the soil). However, there are some pathogenic variants, like Shiga-toxin producing E. coli [STEC] that have been associated with 265,000 annual illnesses and deaths. The main reservoirs of many pathogenic E. coli are within the intestines of ruminant mammals, including cattle. If mishandled, feces can contaminate and cause human illness as a result of improper handling and preparation. The contamination can occur through meat, water, and fecal-oral routes; often, improperly cooking and handling beef products can lead to illness. In the U.S., there have been 27 multi-state STEC associated food outbreaks. While the U.S. beef industry is the largest in the world, five multi-state outbreaks were related to E. coli O157:H7 contamination in ground beef products. Additionally, between 2005 – 2018, 136 of 171 recalls were due to STEC-contaminated beef products. Non-intact beef products (e.g. ground beef) are the most commonly recalled types of beef products. Consumers purchase beef products on extrinsic (i.e. price, weight, cut) and intrinsic (i.e. color, fat, safety) factors with a desire for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. Tenderization processes (e.g. mechanical tenderization) or other enhancement processes (e.g. marinades) can increase tenderness on lower-value cuts but may introduce pathogens from the exterior to the sterile interior. To prevent illness, it is necessary to prepare beef products to the recommended USDA-specified temperature using a thermometer to check. Up until this point, consumer knowledge of and behaviors towards mechanically tenderized beef products [MTB]s and other enhanced beef products had not been characterized. This study uses an exploratory sequential mixed-methods study design (qualitative study guides quantitative study) to assess consumer knowledge of MTBs, enhanced beef products, and food safety / beef safety handling behaviors. Focus groups conducted throughout urban and rural North Carolina and Virginia found that although participants purchased MTBs, they were unaware of the process, did not prepare them properly, wanted to know more about MTBs, and requested different ways of obtaining information. A nationwide survey developed from the focus group findings found that demographic differences were associated with knowledge of and interaction with MTBs and enhanced beef products. However, people were still generally unaware of MTBs, despite a recent 2016 labeling mandate for all MTBs. The Theory of Planned Behavior was used to further explore reported consumer’s food safety knowledge, practices, and risky behaviors in the kitchen. Demographic characteristics were highly correlated with consumers’ behaviors of beef storage, refrigerator temperature knowledge, defrosting behaviors, meat washing, and meat preparation behaviors. Collectively, the mixed methods research design provided insight into specific demographic characteristics related to consumer attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors surrounding beef safety. Additional research, alternative non-didactic strategies, and collaborations within health and public services is necessary to accommodate for specific demographics, cultures, and social groups. Well-crafted, culturally, and socially relevant targeted risk messaging must be developed to increase awareness and promote ease-of-access.
- Doctoral Dissertations