Food Shoppers are Concerned About the Safety of Produce
Recent foodborne illness outbreaks have been linked to fresh produce. As a result, University of Minnesota Extension Educators interviewed consumers on shopping considerations and the way they handle produce in their home. Interviews were conducted in 2008 with 200 consumers at four grocery stores and four farmers markets in Stearns and Benton counties of Central Minnesota.
The study results indicate a majority of Minnesota consumers are concerned about the safety of their food supply. As a result, they take steps to keep produce safe.
Consumers were asked about their confidence in the United States food supply and if they consider how or where produce is grown. Study participants discussed their food handling practices including washing ready-to-eat bagged produce, handwashing practices before and after washing produce, and procedures for washing produce. Two questions evaluated purchasing preferences related to production practices.
Study results found:
- 41 percent are confident the food supply in the United States is safe to eat. 53 percent of respondents said they were concerned. Reasons for concern included: "food imported from other countries and contaminants that could possibly be on them," "food handled by so many people," and "rise in the number of foodborne illness incidents."
- 56 percent consider how or where produce is grown. 65 percent look for locally grown food; 15 percent look for organically grown foods and 20 percent look for both locally and organically grown foods.
- 60 percent of organic food purchasers buy organics because they believe these products are "chemical-free". 35 percent of those purchasing organic foods, purchase more than they did one year ago.
- 40 percent do not purchase organic. The most common reason for not purchasing them was related to cost.
Handwashing is considered important to prevent the spread of foodborne illness and is especially important when handling produce because many of these items are eaten raw. 75 percent of participants report washing hands before washing produce; while only 45 percent washed hands after washing produce.
Washing fruits and vegetables is recommended before preparation or eating. 72 percent surveyed reported following current recommendations of washing produce under running tap water. 20 percent use dish soap, which is not a recommended practice. Fruit and vegetables are very absorbent and will absorb any detergent or bleach used to wash them.
53 percent of grocery store patrons wash prepackaged produce items labeled "ready-to-eat" before eating them. Washing these items is not needed or recommended due to the risk of contamination from an un-sanitized sink or equipment.
Author, Suzanne Driessen, Food Safety Educator with University of Minnesota Extension acknowledges and thanks Melissa Schwinghammer, University of Minnesota Extension, Summer Intern (2008) for her contribution to this study and article.