Multistate surveillance for food-handling, preparation, and consumption behaviors associated with foodborne diseases: 1995 and 1996 BRFSS food-safety questions

MMWR CDC Surveill Summ. 1998 Sep 11;47(4):33-57.


Problem/condition: In 1995, CDC, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and several state health departments collaboratively developed questions regarding food safety. This set of questions was used to collect data about food-handling, preparation, and consumption behaviors that have been associated with foodborne diseases in adults. These data will help characterize persons at high risk for foodborne illness and assist in developing food-safety education strategies for consumers and foodhandlers that are intended to reduce foodborne illness.

Reporting period covered: January 1995-December 1996.

Description of system: Data were collected by using the 12 food-safety questions, which were administered with the 1995 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Systems (BRFSS) in Colorado, Florida, Missouri, New York, and Tennessee, and the 1996 BRFSS in Indiana and New Jersey. In addition, data were collected in South Dakota from two of the standardized questions that deal with consumption of undercooked eggs and pink hamburgers. The BRFSS is a state-based system that surveys noninstitutionalized adults by telephone about their health behaviors and practices.

Results: This study included 19,356 completed questionnaires (2,461 in Colorado; 3,335 in Florida; 2,212 in Indiana; 1,572 in Missouri; 3,149 in New Jersey; 2,477 in New York; 2,110 in South Dakota; and 2,040 in Tennessee). During the previous 12 months, 50.2% of respondents reported eating undercooked eggs (95% confidence interval [CI] = 49.2-51.2); 23.8% reported eating home-canned vegetables (95% CI = 22.5-24.5); 19.7% reported eating pink hamburgers (95% CI = 18.9-20.5); 8.0% reported eating raw oysters (95% CI = 7.5-8.5); and 1.4% reported drinking raw milk (95% CI = 1.2-1.6). The prevalence of not washing hands with soap after handling raw meat or chicken and not washing a cutting board with soap or bleach after using it for cutting raw meat or chicken were 18.6% (95% CI = 17.8-19.4) and 19.5% (95% CI = 18.6-20.4), respectively. Less than half of respondents (45.4%, 95% CI = 44.2-46.6) reported seeing safe food-handling label information on raw meat products. In addition, among those persons who reported they remembered seeing the label information, 77.2% (95% CI = 76.0-78.4) remembered reading the label information, and 36.7% reported changing their meat and poultry preparation habits because of the labels (95% CI = 35.2-38.2). When population characteristics were considered in the analysis, all high-risk food-handling, preparation, and consumption behaviors were more prevalent in men than in women. Eating pink hamburgers during the previous 12 months was more commonly reported by whites (22.3%) than by blacks (6.5%). The prevalence of reported consumption of pink hamburgers during the previous. 12 months decreased with age (18-29 years: 21.8%, 30-59 years: 21.9%, and 60-99 years: 13.2%); increased with education (less than grade 12: 12.0%, high school graduate: 16.5%, and any college education: 24.0%); and increased with income (< $15,000: 11.8%, $15,000-$34,999: 17.6%, $35,000-$49,999: 22.0%, and > or = $50,000: 28.6%).

Interpretation: During 1995-1996, several high-risk food-handling, preparation, and consumption behaviors were common, and some were particular to specific population groups. Based on this analysis, interventions are needed to reduce the prevalence of these risky behaviors. All consumers and foodhandlers could benefit from food-safety education.

Actions taken: Behavioral surveillance systems can provide data that identify persons or groups in which behaviors associated with foodborne diseases are more common and who are at higher risk for foodborne illness. State-specific data can assist in developing food-safety education programs and, if collected periodically, can be used to evaluate program effectiveness.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Behavior
  • Cooking
  • Female
  • Food Handling*
  • Foodborne Diseases*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Health*
  • Safety
  • United States