Data from national telephone surveys conducted in 1988 and 1993 were used to describe consumer perceptions of foodborne illness. The 1993 data were also used to assess the relationship between the perception that a foodborne illness had recently been experienced and awareness, concern, knowledge, and behavior related to food safety. Respondents described foodborne disease primarily as a minor illness without fever that occurs within a day of eating a contaminated food prepared in a restaurant. However, several common pathogens have a latency period longer than a day, and experts on foodborne disease estimate that most cases of foodborne illness originate from foods prepared at home. In both surveys, people 18 to 39 years of age were more likely than those in other age groups to believe they had experienced a foodborne illness. In 1993, people with at least some college education were more likely to believe they had experienced foodborne illness than were people with less education. People who believed they had experienced foodborne illness had greater awareness of foodborne microbes and concern about food safety issues, were more likely to eat raw protein foods from animals, and were less likely to practice safe food handling than were those who did not perceive that they had experienced such an illness.

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