Presented this week at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases, the findings reveal that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of foodborne illness, something which is reflected in the change in their eating habits.
Foods increasingly avoided include undercooked hamburgers or ground beef, raw fresh fish and oysters, runny or uncooked eggs, raw or unpasteurized milk and alfalfa sprouts.
"Overall we are seeing a decline in risky food consumption and that may be attributable to published media reports of foodborne outbreaks and outreach efforts by the public health community," said Erica Weis of the California Department of Health Services, the lead author on the study.
The findings were based on a meta-analysis of two Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) telephone surveys conducted in 1998 and 2002, in which subjects were asked about foods they had consumed in the previous week.
In 1998, 31 percent of those surveyed said that they had consumed one or more risky foods in the previous week. By 2002, that number had dropped to 21 percent, said the researchers. The most commonly reported risky food item consumed was runny eggs.
The primary goal of the study was to identify areas lacking in public health education in order to determine which specific consumer groups need to be targeted with food safety messages, Weiss told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
Weiss and her colleagues revealed that men aged 18-64 were more likely to report consuming risky foods than women of the same age group and Asians/Pacific Islanders were more likely to consume risky foods than whites. The safest eaters were African Americans, only 15 percent of whom reported consuming one or more risky foods in the 2002 survey.
"Consumption of risky foods declined significantly in 2002 compared to 1998. However, in the future there needs to be more targeted outreach to those groups that continue to have high levels of risky food consumption," said Weis.
The research was conducted by a working group that included investigators from the California Department of Health Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Connecticut Emerging Infections Program, the Georgia Division of Public Health, the Tennessee Department of Health and the Oregon Department of Human Services.