The FDA has completed data analysis that shows people are more concerned about getting a foodborne illness from restaurant food than food prepared at home.

The report from the Food and Drug Administration reveals information from a 2019 public survey about food safety and nutrition. The annual Food Safety and Nutrition Survey (FSANS) is a national probability consumer survey designed to assess consumers’ awareness, knowledge, understanding, and self-reported behaviors relating to a variety of food safety and nutrition-related topics. 

Previously the survey was conducted by phone, but the agency pursued responses in a different way for the 2019 survey.

“FSANS use(d) an address-based sampling method and is ‘mail – push to web.’ A detailed description of this methodology can be found at the end of the full report,” according to an announcement from the FDA.

“The survey findings are intended to help FDA make better-informed regulatory, policy, education, and other risk-management decisions aimed at promoting and protecting public health.”

Adults aged 18 and older and living in the 50 states plus the District of Columbia were included in the survey. A total of 4,398 responses was collected during October and November of 2019.

Each selected household received up to five mailings requesting participation in the study. The first was a notification letter on FDA letterhead introducing the study and providing the information necessary, including the web address for the survey and a unique personal identification number assigned to each household. The FDA survey webpage provided commonly asked questions about the survey topics in both English and Spanish, and a link that routed each participant to the survey host website.

Each respondent was randomly assigned to one of the two versions of the survey — food safety or nutrition. Some overlapping questions were asked on both versions.

The full report is 76 pages long and provides key findings as well as all of the survey questions and data on responses. The responses are broken down in numbers and percentages for easy reference. 

Key findings from the food safety questions

  • Consumers think people are more likely to get a foodborne illness from food prepared at a restaurant than food prepared at home – Few respondents, 15 percent, thought it was “very common” for people to get food poisoning because of the way food is prepared at home, compared to 29 percent who thought it was “very common” to get food poisoning because of the way food is prepared in restaurants.
  • Consumers are more concerned about raw chicken and raw beef than raw vegetables or fruit being contaminated  – More respondents thought that raw chicken, 93 percent and raw beef, 66 percent were “likely or highly likely” to have germs than raw vegetables, 9 percent or fruit 6 percent.
  • Consumer awareness of germs varies greatly depending on the type of germ  –  Awareness is high for Salmonella at 97 percent and E. coli at 88 percent but comparatively low for Campylobacter at 7 percent and Vibrio at 4 percent.
  • Hand washing practices vary depending on the occasion  –  Consumers are more likely to wash hands with soap after touching raw meat, 76 percent, than before preparing food, 68 percent or after cracking raw eggs, 39 percent.
  • The majority of consumers own a food thermometer, but usage varies depending on what is being cooked  –  Sixty-two percent of respondents reported owning a food thermometer. Usage among those who own food thermometers and cook the food ranges from 85 percent for whole chickens and 79 percent for beef, lamb or pork roasts, to 40 percent for chicken parts, 36 percent for burgers, 23 percent for egg dishes, and 20 percent for frozen meals.

Key findings from the nutrition questions

  • Most consumers are familiar with the Nutrition Facts label – 87 percent of respondents have looked at the NFL on food packages. The top four items that consumers look for on the label are Calories, Total Sugar, Sodium, and Serving Size. Consumers report using the label most frequently for seeing “how high or low the food is in things like calories, salt, vitamins, or fat,” “for getting a general idea of the nutritional content of the food,” and “to compare different food items with each other.”
  • Consumers are familiar with food package claims – More than 80 percent of respondents have seen claims such as “No added sugar,” “Whole grain,” “Organic,” “Gluten-free,” “Low fat,” “No artificial ingredients,” “Low sugar,” and “No artificial colors.”
  • Most consumers have seen menu labeling at restaurants – Most respondents, 70 percent reported that they have seen calorie information on menus and menu boards. Of those who have seen such information, 53 percent reported using the calorie information, and most often indicated using it to avoid ordering high-calorie menu items.

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