Consumer Food Safety and Nutrition Research

Using qualitative and quantitative methods (for example, focus groups, in-depth interviews, surveys, and case studies), RTI researchers conduct research to understand consumer knowledge, attitudes, and practices; assess consumers' use and understanding of food labels; test educational materials and programs; and conduct analyses of scanner data. The following sample projects demonstrate the breadth of consumer issues we address.

Consumer Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices

Consumer Emergency Preparedness

[Poster 1] [Poster 2] [Poster 3] [Poster 4] [Presentation]

In collaboration with Tennessee State University and Jackson State Community College, RTI conducted a study to characterize consumers' preparedness to respond to emergencies (e.g., extended power outages and foodborne bioterrorism). Using findings from a national survey and focus groups, the study team developed and tested educational materials regarding food safety during emergencies. This study was funded by a USDA National Integrated Food Safety Initiative Grant.

Older Adults' Knowledge and Use of Food Safety Practices

[Presentation 1] [Presentation 2] [Poster 1] [Poster 2] [Abstract 1] [Abstract 2]

In collaboration with Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee, RTI is conducting a study to characterize older adults' knowledge and use of food safety practices and consumption of at-risk foods. Using findings from a national survey and information collected in focus groups with older adults, the study team will develop and test educational materials targeted to at-risk demographic groups. This study is funded by a USDA National Integrated Food Safety Initiative Grant.

Unified Analysis: Research Basis for Recent Food Safety Education Outreach Efforts

[Presentation 1] [Presentation 2] [Presentation 3]

For the Partnership for Food Safety Education, RTI conducted a review of existing consumer food safety education research conducted by USDA, FDA, CDC, and other organizations. We also compiled data on consumers' use of safe food handling practices. Based on our review of this secondary data, we made recommendations to the Partnership regarding possible modifications to their food safety education programs and identified subpopulations and specific practices to target with more aggressive food safety education efforts.

Consumer Handling and Storage of Refrigerated Ready-to-Eat Foods

[Poster 1] [Poster 2] [Poster 3] [Presentation] [Abstract 1] [Abstract 2]

In collaboration with Tennessee and Kansas State universities, RTI conducted a study to characterize consumer handling and storage of refrigerated ready-to-eat foods. Using survey findings and information collected through food diaries and interviews, the study team developed risk communication messages targeted to at-risk populations (e.g., pregnant women and older adults). This study was funded by a USDA National Integrated Food Safety Initiative Grant. The survey data are available at www.foodrisk.org/rti_data.cfm.

Integrating Risk Assessment and Risk Communication Messages for Listeria monocytogenes

[Presentation 1] [Presentation 2] [Presentation 3] [Abstract 1] [Abstract 2] [Abstract 3] [Abstract 4] [Abstract 5]

In collaboration with North Carolina and Michigan State Universities, RTI conducted a study to incorporate findings from a risk assessment of Listeria monocytogenes, a meta-analysis of consumer food-handling practices, and a consumer survey to develop risk communication messages on listeriosis prevention for older adults. RTI also conducted consumer focus groups to test and evaluate the messages. This study was funded by a USDA National Integrated Food Safety Initiative Grant.

Changes in Consumer Knowledge, Behavior, and Confidence Since the PR/HACCP Final Rule

[Report] [Presentation] [Poster]

For USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, RTI conducted a study to measure changes in consumer knowledge, safe food handling practices, and confidence in the safety of meat and poultry since the PR/HACCP farm-to-table initiatives were implemented. RTI used existing survey and observation data and conducted consumer focus groups to collect information on changes in consumer knowledge, safe food handling practices, and confidence.

Food Labeling

Experimental Study on Consumer Response to Nutrition Symbols

For the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), RTI conducted an experimental study to evaluate various FOP nutrition labeling schemes. The study examined how different nutritional information and design features influence consumer food choices.

Gluten-Free Labeling of Food Products Experimental Study

For FDA, RTI conducted an experimental study to assess consumers' perceptions and understanding of "gluten-free" claims and other allergen statements on food product labels. The study was conducted with both average consumers and individuals with Celiac disease.

Consumer Research on Public Health Messages for Meat, Poultry, and Egg Products

[Poster]

For USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, RTI conducted consumer focus groups to evaluate consumers' understanding of several labeling features regarding the safe handling of meat, poultry, and egg products, including preparation instructions for prepared but not-ready-to-eat (NRTE) meat and poultry products, safe cooking temperatures for raw meat, the "natural" claim, and labeling of meat products packaged using carbon monoxide.

Consumer Research on Labeling for Processed Meat and Poultry Products

[Poster] [Presentation] [Abstract]

For USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, RTI conducted focus groups to collect information on consumers’ understanding of labeling terms and features of not-ready-to-eat (NRTE) foods. Also, RTI evaluated alternative labeling terms and features that convey that NRTE products require cooking for safety.

Consumer Research on Food Safety Labeling Features

For USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, RTI conducted consumer focus groups to collect information about (1) consumers’ use and understanding of various labeling features (e.g., the Nutrition Facts panel, handling statements, and product dates); (2) consumers’ attitudes toward mandatory requirements for labeling; (3) preferences for labeling of irradiated food products; and (4) preferences for labeling of food products with possible allergenic ingredients.

Consumer Research to Develop the Safe Handling Instructions Label

[Abstract]

For USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, RTI conducted consumer focus groups to evaluate alternative formats of the Safe Handling Instructions (SHI) label for raw meat and poultry products. FSIS used the study findings to develop the SHI label.

Research on Consumer Preferences for Food Standards of Identity

[Abstract]

For FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, RTI conducted focus groups to collect information about consumers' attitudes toward food standards of identity and consumers' perceptions of the usefulness of these standards. Regulators can use the study findings to guide policy decisions regarding food standards.

Scanner Data Studies

Quality Study for Household-based Scanner Data

For USDA's Economic Research Service, RTI developed a plan for conducting analyses to better understand the characteristics of household-based scanner data. Initial projects include (1) comparing the panelists' attitudes towards diet and health to the general population and (2) comparing projected household expenditures to other data sources.

Measuring Consumption Response to Prices in a Dynamic Model of Consumer Food Purchase Behavior

For USDA's Economic Research Service's Food Assistance and Nutrition Programs, RTI is conducting analyses to understand low- and high-income households' preferences for nonalcoholic beverages and the effect of container size on consumption of carbonated soft drinks.

Review of U.S. and International Meat Consumption Data for Use in Avian Influenza Analyses

[Presentation]

For USDA's Economic Research Service, RTI assessed the potential for using available disaggregated Nielsen data for analyses of consumer response to disease outbreaks in the U.S. and 14 other countries that had experienced outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza. Based on this assessment, RTI estimated models of Italian consumer response to media coverage of avian influenza and response within a demand system to capture substitution effects.

Research on the Estimation of Consumer-Level Food Loss

[Report]

For USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS), RTI developed updated estimates of consumer-level food loss that occurs at and away from home. These estimates will be incorporated into ERS' Food Availability Data System.

Testing of Educational Materials and Programs

Evaluation of Food Safety Educational Booklet and Delivery Mechanisms for Transplant Recipients and Their Caregivers

[Report] [Presentation] [Abstract]

For USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, RTI conducted a focus group and telephone interviews with transplant recipients and caregivers to assess their food safety knowledge and food handling practices and to evaluate the effectiveness of a food safety educational booklet to improve their knowledge and practices. FSIS used study findings to refine the educational booklet.

Evaluation of the USDA "Is It DONE Yet?" Campaign Slogans and Educational Materials

[Report 1] [Report 2]

For USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, RTI conducted focus groups to assess consumers' preferences for campaign slogans and concepts for the "Is It DONE Yet?" campaign, which promotes the use of food thermometers in daily cooking. FSIS used study findings to select a campaign slogan and refine campaign materials. RTI also conducted focus groups to evaluate the effectiveness of the materials (e.g., print advertisement, public service announcement) to motivate food thermometer use.

Evaluation of the Slogan, Materials, and Delivery Mechanisms for USDA Thermy™ Campaign

[Presentation] [Report]

For USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, RTI conducted focus groups to assess consumers’ preferences for campaign slogans and character graphics for the Thermy™ campaign. FSIS used study findings to select a campaign slogan and character. RTI also conducted focus groups to evaluate the effectiveness of the Thermy™ slogan and character to increase food thermometer use among parents of young children.

Evaluation of Educational Materials and Delivery Mechanisms for Pregnant Women on Listeriosis Prevention

[Report] [Poster] [Presentation 1] [Presentation 2] [Abstract]

For USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, RTI conducted focus groups with pregnant women to identify preferred educational messages and delivery mechanisms to inform pregnant women about the risks of listeriosis as well as practices to reduce their risk. FSIS used the findings from this research to help develop educational materials targeted to pregnant women.

Evaluation of Food Safety Education Publications Translated in Spanish

For USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, RTI conducted one-on-one interviews with Spanish-speaking adults to evaluate four food safety education publications translated into Spanish.

Evaluation of the USDA Food Safety Mobile

[Report]

For USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, RTI conducted an evaluation of the USDA Food Safety Mobile to determine the effectiveness of the Mobile to support local food safety education efforts and improve consumers' food safety awareness and knowledge and food handling practices. RTI identified recommendations to improve event activities and implementation of Mobile events.