Consumers are the focus at Tennessee State University (TSU), Nashville, where researchers are completing an ambitious six-year project focused on reducing illnesses from Campylobacter (and Salmonella) by improving consumer storage, handling, and preparation of raw poultry and poultry products.
Funded by a $2.4 million USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grant from Aug. 1, 2012 through July 31, 2018, the project has five objectives, according to project director Sandria Godwin, PhD, a TSU food science professor.
These objectives are to:
- Characterize consumers purchase, storage, handling, and preparation of poultry products and eggs and their awareness and understanding of existing food safety messages;
- Assess and prioritize the risk of contamination or cross-contamination from purchase or in-home storage, handling, and preparation of poultry products and eggs;
- Develop and test science-based and consumer-focused messages identified in Objectives 1 and 2 and educational programs on safe purchase, storage, handling, and preparation of poultry products and eggs;
- Evaluate messages and educational programs to assess the impact on improving consumers’ purchase, storage, handling, and preparation of poultry products and eggs; and
- Enhance student experiential learning opportunities through participation in food microbiology assessments and consumer studies.
“Working with Kansas State University and RTI International, we began our project by conducting focus groups and a nationally representative Web-enabled survey to characterize consumer practices and awareness and understanding of existing food safety messages,” Dr. Godwin relates. “This research was supplemented by observational and laboratory-based studies to address gaps in the scientific literature. Our studies were designed to describe shopping behavior and home storage practices and the risk of cross-contamination, assess the risk of extended consumer storage of fresh and liquid eggs, and determine temperatures of current consumer cooking practices of poultry products and eggs. We also identified risky practices and used the results to develop science-based and consumer-focused messages addressing these practices.”
Dr. Godwin says the study yielded a multifaceted educational program for youth aged 12 to 18 and adults. “The curriculum and print resources are being designed so that other food safety educators can easily use them,” she points out. “The curriculum is downloadable from the Web and also made available on a USB for those with limited Internet access. This program has been widely popular and was featured at the 2017 National FFA (Future Farmers of America) convention, where over 60,000 youth were in attendance.”
Don’t Wing It!, another TSU Campylobacter educational program funded by NIFA, targets millennial parents and older adults. The site also has a section for grocers with food safety handouts and promotional items.
“The materials include new food safe recipes that have reminders about actions needed to reduce cross-contamination within the preparation steps,” Dr. Godwin mentions. “Observational research and follow-up interviews showed that using this style of recipe significantly reduced the occurrence of risky practices during cooking.”
“Our project is in the process of evaluating the impact of both of these educational programs on consumers,” Dr. Godwin adds.
Fur-Chi Chen, PhD, a TSU research professor who serves as one of the microbiologists on the project, has conducted some recent NIFA-funded studies on the prevalence and persistence of Campylobacter on surfaces that come in contact with poultry.
One study investigated the extent of microbiological contaminations on the surfaces of raw poultry packages purchased from local grocery stores. “We found that Campylobacter and pathogenic E. coli are more often found on poultry packages than Salmonella,” Dr. Chen relates. “And, no great shock, leaking packages clearly increase the risk of cross-contamination.”
Dr. Chen also conducted an observational study to assess consumer exposure to meat juice, and thus potential contamination with Campylobacter (and Salmonella), during shopping and to quantify the transmission of meat juice from poultry packages to hands and other surfaces. Ninety-six participants completed the shopping studies, then 402 swabs were collected and analyzed for the presence of meat juice by an immunoassay.