Some Canadians have an out of sight, out of mind tendency when it comes to safe food handling, according to a survey.
The work found that in the absence of sustained messaging on food safety, it is likely consumer vigilance may lapse, especially for specific practices not yet normalized or habitualized.
The survey with more than 2,800 respondents was undertaken on behalf of Health Canada from December 2017 to January 2018.
Results were tracked against a benchmark survey in 2010, but some changes in methodology mean not data was comparable.
More than nine in 10 said they had heard about the importance of handwashing with the practice being fairly routine before preparing food or after handling raw meat, fish or frozen breaded chicken products.
However, awareness of safe food handling has declined between the benchmark and current survey.
Almost two-thirds said they have heard at least something about this issue, a drop from almost three-fourths in 2010.
Many people do not regularly wash reusable grocery bags or use food thermometers to determine if the recommended temperature has been reached.
Respondents were more inclined to think the vast majority of food poisoning cases are contracted in restaurants or from take-out foods rather than from unsafe practices in their own home — by a ratio of about 3:1.
Awareness of Listeria has also plummeted, from more than half in the survey in 2010, two years after a serious outbreak, to just over one-third currently.
The 2008 listeriosis outbreak was widespread with 57 confirmed cases and 22 deaths linked to ready-to-eat meats produced at a Maple Leaf plant in Ontario.
Four million (or one in eight) Canadians are affected by a domestically acquired foodborne illness every year, resulting in 11,500 hospitalizations and 240 deaths, according to government statistics.
The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) will come into force on Jan. 15, 2019, to replace 14 sets of regulations and modernize the country’s food safety system.
About one in 10 people in three of the four at-risk groups, excluding seniors, tended to downplay the potential issues and complications from cases of food poisoning.
Researchers said this suggests a continued need for communications on the true impact to pregnant women, parents of young children and immunocompromised individuals.
Just less than half of pregnant women admitted to eating eggs with runny yolks and one third also keep remaining leftover food after it has been reheated once.
Relatively few, less than than one in five and in some cases one in 10, of people with compromised immune systems, pregnant women and seniors definitively feel they are at greater risk for complications from food poisoning.
There are also misperceptions relating to raw frozen breaded chicken products among slightly more than one-third of Canadians who think they are pre-cooked products that require reheating only.
Just less than half, 46 percent, of seniors consider these products are pre-cooked. A significant proportion of parents with young children, 41 percent, and people with compromised immune systems, 40 percent, also have this view
Messaging to reinforce that these products should be treated in the same way as raw poultry should be reinforced, including emphasis on following instructions on packages, could be a focus of future educational campaigns, according to the report.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is requiring industry to implement measures at the manufacturing/processing level to reduce Salmonella to below detectable amounts in frozen raw breaded chicken products packed for retail sale.
The move follows continued links between such products and outbreaks of foodborne illness.
Facilities that manufacture the products must review processes and implement control measures by April 1, 2019.
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