ABSTRACT

Foodborne infections in the United States affect racial-ethnic minority and low-income populations at higher rates than the general population. To identify the prevalence of food safety behaviors and demographic characteristics associated with food handling practices among a susceptible, high-risk population, a cross-sectional survey was administered to 106 parents with children enrolled at two elementary schools serving predominantly low-income families in Houston, Texas. Relationships between demographic characteristics and food safety behavioral outcomes were examined using cross-tabulations and Fisher's exact test. Most respondents were female (93.4%), Hispanic, Latino, or Mexican American (94.9%), and had no previous food handling employment experience (75.0%). The primary source of food safety information reported was the Internet (32.7%), and nearly half of parents (42.7%) reported that they did not consider contamination of food with germs a serious food safety problem. Hand washing before food preparation was more common (98.0%) than before touching the refrigerator handle (66.3%), after electronic device use (55.6%), or after handling raw animal proteins (77.6%). The prevalence of fresh fruit (98.0%) and vegetable (97.9%) washing and appropriate contaminated cutting board handling (89.0%) was high among parents. Self-reported gaps in food handling behaviors identified included lack of food thermometer ownership (80.4%), use of reusable cleaning tools (71.0%), inappropriate defrosting methods (67.4%), and washing of raw poultry (86.3%), seafood (84.9%), and meat (74.7%). Hand washing after electronic device use and defrosting methods were observed to vary significantly according to demographic characteristics. Food safety education with messages targeted to specific demographic groups may be necessary to reduce the risk of foodborne disease among low-income parents and young children.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nearly half of parents did not consider food contamination a serious problem.

  • Parents more commonly washed their hands prior to, not during, food preparation.

  • Parents frequently reported the use of reusable tools to clean kitchen surfaces.

  • Food safety education could be targeted to specific demographic groups.

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