Food Safety Survey Points to Continued Need for Education


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million people get sick from foodborne diseases each year in the U.S. alone. That’s a staggering number, isn’t it? Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has put the annual cost of foodborne illness at more than $15.6 billion.

Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released the 2016 Food Safety Survey Report, which included some useful and interesting data about critical elements of food safety, as well as areas where the U.S. public is doing well and where we can improve. Key findings in the report spotlight use of food thermometers, rates of hand-washing and an interesting new measure that looked at hand-washing after smartphone and electronics use in the kitchen.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Food Thermometers

While food thermometer ownership rates have remained constant — 67 percent of respondents — usage has slightly increased in the last 10 years. In 2016, 38 percent reported they always used a meat thermometer for roasts, compared to 19 percent for chicken parts, and 10 percent for hamburgers.


Hand-washing rates have remained constant or decreased between 2010 and 2016. The percent who reported washing with soap after touching raw meat or raw fish remained constant since 2010 at 85 percent. There was a slight decrease in the percent who reported always washing before preparing food from 78 percent in 2010 to 75 percent in 2016.

Device Use and Hand-washing

Most consumers do not wash their hands after using handheld phones or tablets in the kitchen. About half of consumers use devices such as smartphones or tablets while preparing food, but only about a third of them reported washing their hands with soap after touching the device while preparing food.

Dietitians are uniquely positioned to encourage food safety and raise public awareness about this important topic. Food Safety Survey Points to Continued Need for Education - 2016 Food Safety Survey One simple way to broach the subject would be to incorporate it into messaging. For instance, when working with individual patients or clients, RDNs could include a section on their intake or assessment form that reminds them to ask individuals they are counseling whether they practice food safety measures at home, in what way, and whether they have questions about food safety. Organizations could coordinate in-services and contract RDNs to provide food-safety messaging or even create a brochure on key elements of food safety. Since foodborne illness costs employers millions of dollars annually in sick day expenses, this could be a worthwhile investment.

To see the 2016 Food Safety Survey Report findings in presentation mode, click here.

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Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN
Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, spent five years as a humanitarian aid worker in Africa and is currently based in Los Angeles, where she runs a private practice, Nomadista Nutrition. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.