Americans’ Food Safety Practices in Doubt: Food & Health Survey Highlights a Potentially Dangerous New “Diet Disconnect”

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The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation announces the third annual "Food & Health Survey," which takes an extensive look at what Americans are doing regarding their eating and health habits.

Consumers are a lot more confident about their ability to safely prepare food than they ought to be, based on what we learned

More than three-quarters of Americans (82 percent) say they are confident in their ability to safely prepare food, yet many report not following simple procedures to reduce the spread of bacteria in their kitchen or ensure safe cooking temperatures. In particular, less than half of Americans (48 percent) report using separate cutting boards for raw meat or poultry and produce, and even fewer Americans (29 percent) say they use a meat thermometer.

These findings are part of an extensive look at what Americans are doing regarding their eating and health habits in the third annual "Food & Health Survey" conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation. The survey of 1,000 American adults was conducted over a two and a half-week period in February and March of 2008.

The contradiction or “disconnect” between consumers’ beliefs and their own behavior toward safe food preparation is among seven overall “diet disconnects” identified in the survey over the past two years.

“The gap between Americans’ desire to do what’s best when it comes to eating and what they actually do is going to take some time to bridge,” said Susan Borra, IFIC Foundation President and registered dietitian. “A new question this year found that almost half of Americans think health information is ‘confusing and conflicting,’ which means there’s a lot of work to do to break through the food information clutter out there and make nutrition advice practical.”

This year’s new questions surrounding food safety included both general cooking and microwave cooking practices. Most Americans (92 percent) report washing their hands with soap and water when preparing food, and nearly as many (79 percent) say they store leftovers within two hours of serving. However, few Americans (15 percent) report checking the wattage on their microwaves, and even fewer (seven percent) say they use a meat thermometer when using their microwave.

“Consumers are a lot more confident about their ability to safely prepare food than they ought to be, based on what we learned," said Danielle Schor, Senior Vice President of Food Safety for the IFIC Foundation and registered dietitian. “We still have a long way to go to educate the public about the basics such as avoiding cross contamination and cooking to proper temperature.”

The seven “diet disconnects” include: (People-on-the-Street Videos)

1- Food Safety: Seventy-six percent of Americans say they cook food to the required temperature. But, only 29 percent use a food thermometer to check the doneness of meat and poultry items (New disconnect identified in 2008 data).

2- Counting Calories: Nearly seven in 10 Americans (69 percent) who say they are trying to improve the healthfulness of their diet reported doing so in order to lose weight. But, only 15 percent of Americans know the number of calories they should consume each day (Four Percent more Americans were able to accurately state the number of calories they should consume in 2008 than in 2007). And, only 37 percent agree that low-calorie sweeteners can reduce the calorie content of foods.

3- Diet & Physical Activity: A clear majority of Americans (88 percent) report being physically active, for health benefits, at least once a week. But, nearly half (44 percent) of Americans who report being physically active say they do not ''balance diet and physical activity'' to manage their weight.

4- Breakfast: Ninety-two percent of Americans agree that breakfast is an important meal to achieve a healthful diet, with significantly more Americans rating it as “extremely important” than last year. But, less than half of Americans (46 percent) report eating breakfast every day (10 percent more noted that eating breakfast is “extremely important” in achieving an overall healthful diet compared to 2007 data).

5- Dietary Fats: Consumers’ concern about the types and amounts of fats they include in their diet remain high and they are more aware of trans fats than ever (91 percent). But, more than 60 percent of consumers don’t understand that unsaturated fats are healthful.

6- Carbohydrates: More than two-thirds of consumers say they are trying to consume more of certain types of carbohydrates like fiber and whole grains. But, more than 50 percent remain concerned with the amount of carbohydrates they consume.

7- Food and Beverages with Added Health Benefits: Nearly 80 percent of Americans agree that consuming specific foods and beverages can provide certain health and wellness benefits beyond basic nutrition. But, 50 percent or more of Americans say they currently do not consume foods or beverages that deliver these benefits, although most are interested in doing so (No significant change from 2007 data with one exception – four percent more Americans report consuming foods and beverages to improve their mental performance).

Additional topics addressed in this year’s survey include: caffeine, food additives, food labeling, and consumer information sources, among others.

For a PDF copy of the entire survey visit: http://www.ific.org/research/foodandhealthsurvey.cfm .

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation effectively communicates science-based information on health, nutrition, and food safety for the public good. The IFIC Foundation is supported primarily by the broad-based food, beverage and agricultural industries. IFIC Foundation materials are available at http://ific.org/newsroom . For interviews with science experts or for more information, call (202) 296-6540.

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