UF Study: Family, Friends Are First Source for Food Safety Info

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

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Most people who wonder about food safety will ask their family or friends for help, not necessarily experts, according to new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences research.

On the other hand, those people categorized by UF/IFAS researchers as “seekers” make it a point to go find more information about food safety from a variety of sources.

Contaminated food puts humans at risk of serious illness worldwide. With that in mind, UF/IFAS researchers wanted to know how people get their information about food safety and what sources they trust. After conducting a national online survey of 1,024 people, UF/IFAS researchers came to several conclusions about trusted information sources for food safety.

“While most people trust professionals as an information source about food safety, they are more likely to reach out to families and friends for advice,” said Alexa Lamm, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of agricultural education and communication. “The finding holds implications for the power of social media, as people can readily access one another and may be getting information from unreliable sources, rather than leaning on universities or health organizations.”

From the survey, 64 percent of respondents said they obtained food safety information from family and friends. But the source deemed most trustworthy – by 45 percent of respondents — was health professionals. Lamm said people ask their doctors about food safety after they get sick, usually not beforehand.

The current survey showed people who are seeking information about food safety – and thinking critically about the topic – consider a variety of sources as trustworthy and are not being very critical about where their information is coming from, Lamm said.

For a recent presentation at the Association for International Agricultural & Extension Education conference, post-doctoral researcher Pei-wen Huang, divided the survey respondents into “seekers” and “engagers.”

Here’s what those terms mean. When posed with a problem that does not have a right or wrong answer, seekers go find information. They Google, they read, they try to find information that opposes their views and then make as informed a decision as they can.

When engagers are posed with a problem with no right or wrong answers, they engage with others. They discuss the problem and come up with several solutions based on what they hear and how that combines with what they already know.

“When it comes to thinking about and making decisions regarding food safety, it is imperative people use reliable information sources, whether that be who they talk to or where they go for information,” Lamm said. “By understanding how people think critically, researchers and educators can reach them with timely, accurate information where they already are and have an even greater impact.”

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