IFAS News

University of Florida

UF/IFAS study: Food safety knowledge – or lack thereof — passed from one generation to next

Topic(s): Extension, Families and Consumers, Food Safety, IFAS, Nutrition, Research

A tomoato being hand-washed in a kitchen sink.

Please see caption at end of story.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Most people learn how to cook and safely handle food from their parents. Then they pass along their food knowledge and behaviors – right or wrong – from generation to generation. This cycle may prevent young people from learning all they can about food safety, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.

But the UF/IFAS researcher leading the study says the findings present teachable moments. Joy Rumble and her research colleagues suggest more interactive and online instruction in food safety procedures, supplemented by social media outreach.

The real issue, as Rumble found in her newly published study, is that few Floridians bother to find out the safest ways to prevent food-borne illnesses.

And it’s not that they don’t care, said Rumble, an assistant professor in agricultural education and communication. “They’ve just never had a reason to care. They don’t know they are doing something wrong, or they’ve never knowingly gotten sick from something they made.”

In the study, Rumble led a team of UF/IFAS researchers that conducted an internet survey of 511 Floridians. They wanted to know if there’s a correlation between food safety behaviors, generations of Floridians and where Floridians learn about food safety behaviors.

They divided the respondents into age groups: millennials or younger (ages 20 to 39); those in Generation X (ages 40 to 51), young baby boomers (ages 52 to 61), older baby boomers (ages 62 to 70) and the silent generation (ages 71 and older).

One area researchers asked about was whether respondents disinfect counters before they get food ready to eat or cook. The study found that more than 70 percent of the millennials through old baby boomers do this, while 55 percent of the silent generation do this.

On the other hand, 79 percent of the silent generation properly defrosted frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave, while 40 percent of millennials reported doing this.

What millennials don’t know about proper food preparation stems partly from the convenience-driven society in which they’ve grown up. That includes ready-to-eat meals or meals cooked outside the home. Another factor for millennials and other age groups: home-economics classes.

Home economics was a fixture in secondary schools through the 1960s, at least for girls, according a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. These days, there are fewer and fewer such classes.

But all generations have reasons not to know as much about properly preparing food as educators might want.

“The silent generation grew up in a time where a lot less was known about proper food safety, preparation and handling,” Rumble said.

The new UF/IFAS study is published in the journal Food Control.

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Caption: Washing a tomato is one way to make sure it’s safer to eat. But generations pass along food preparation tips to each other, and sometimes that information is incorrect, a new UF/IFAS study shows. UF/IFAS researchers see their findings as a chance to educate people about food safety that hopefully will translate into kitchen behaviors that lead to safer food.

Credit: UF/IFAS file.

By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Source: Joy Rumble, 352-273-1663, jnrumble@ufl.edu

 

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