An Assessment of Consumer Food Safety Handling Practices of Produce at Grocery Stores in Rhode Island

Chelsea Paulin, Ingrid E. Lofgren, Lori F. Pivarnik

Biblographic citation: Food Protection Trends, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 99-106, Mar 2017

Volume 37, Issue 2: Pages 99–106

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Produce contributed to more foodborne illnesses from 2004 to 2013 than any other food category. While the main focus has been on produce contamination on a farm or distribution center, little has been done to understand the role of consumers’ food safety practices in the grocery store. This area is of particular importance, since any contamination could be made worse with improper food safety practices in the home. The purpose of this study was to use direct observation and a smartphone application to observe food safety handling and hygiene practices of consumers shopping for produce at grocery stores in Rhode Island. A total of 80 individual consumer observations of produce handling and hygiene practices took place at five grocery stores (16 observations per location). Observed unsafe food safety handling practices of consumers included manipulating produce, putting produce back on the shelf, and tasting produce, in addition to poor personal hygiene practices. Produce scales were unclean in a majority of observations. Results from this study revealed that some consumers at Rhode Island grocery stores engage in unsafe food safety practices when shopping for produce. Education at the point of purchase about best practices of handling produce is needed in order to decrease cross-contamination and exposure of other consumers to contamination.

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