Assessment of consumers' knowledge, attitudes, awareness, and beliefs of food handling and beef safety handling behaviors
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.