Evaluation of a safe food handling campaign in Australia found knowledge improved but there was limited impact on behavior.

Researchers assessed if the Western Australian ‘Play it Food Safe’ campaign led to long-term change in safe food handling knowledge and behavior among consumers. 

Almost 700 participants took part in a survey assessing their safe food handling knowledge and behavior, following the conclusion of the project. People completed a second survey eight weeks later. Data were analyzed to see if there were any changes over time, or whether scores on certain measures were maintained long-term.

Results indicated that knowledge was higher among participants who saw the campaign, however, behavior remained the same. This shows it may be effective for increasing knowledge but more development is needed for further impact on behavior, according to the study published in Food Control.

Initial campaign and follow-up

Behavior did not appear to improve initially after the campaign or at follow-up. Based on other research, the inclusion of interactive components may yield greater long-term effects, said researchers.

The campaign used various media channels to disseminate short messages about safe food handling and was piloted in regional Western Australia from late 2019 through to early 2020. It was developed by the Western Australian Department of Health to help reduce increasing rates of foodborne illness in the state. The work featured five safe food-handling behaviors and three unsafe ones.

An evaluation found those between 30 and 45 years old and consumers who reported seeing the advertisements outdoors were more likely to retain campaign messages. After the pilot, safe food handling behaviors improved among consumers who saw the campaign on any media platform.

The campaign was next implemented in Perth, Western Australia, between January and April 2021. The aim was to improve consumer understanding of the safe food handling practices needed to prevent and reduce food poisoning, particularly at home.

Recruitment for a two-part prospective study took place from May to July 2021. A total of 655 participants completed the questionnaires at both time points. Only 75 reported seeing the media campaign. Also, 154 had completed food safety training at some point.

Unsafe egg practices

Findings indicated that people were engaging in the unsafe practice of washing raw eggs more than eight weeks post-intervention. There was also an increase in the perception that it would reduce the risk of food poisoning, which is not correct.

“These findings are concerning and run contrary to the anticipated aims of the campaign. One explanation for this may be that the campaign messages related to washing raw eggs were not clear enough to indicate this was an unsafe food-handling practice. Consequently, participants may still believe washing raw eggs is a safe food handling practice, and being reminded of this belief in the survey may have led to increases in this behavior,” said researchers.

Participants who saw and did not see the media campaign had a decrease in their raw chicken washing habit strength over time.

Results showed that those who saw the campaign had a higher risk perception for throwing away perishable foods left out of the refrigerator for more than four hours, and they more strongly reported this behavior would reduce the risk of food poisoning. This demonstrates the project led to stronger risk perceptions for doing this but did not change behavior. 

Overall, the campaign appeared to have helped improve and maintain some safe food handling habits and some perceptions around behaviors. However, it was unable to change any of the target behaviors.

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