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Consumers do read food hygiene warning labels on poultry

Consumers find hygiene warning labels on poultry meat important, useful and reassuring, prompting researchers to suggest the feasibility of a similar label on other meats.

The research was carried out to determine the impact of a label containing safe food-handling instructions, which has been required on retail packages of raw poultry in the Netherlands since 2001.

Researchers wanted to see how the label impacted consumer perceptions on risk and food-handling behaviour. Photo: Aleph Studio
Researchers wanted to see how the label impacted consumer perceptions on risk and food-handling behaviour. Photo: Aleph Studio

Consumer perceptions

Researchers wanted to see how the label impacted consumer perceptions on risk and food-handling behaviour in the light that poultry meat is an important source of foodborne infections, such as campylobacter, salmonella and E.coli.

A random sample of 1235 adults from a representative internet panel received an email linking to the study questionnaire. Information was gathered about knowledge of safe food-handling regarding poultry, their current food-handling behaviour and intention to change after reading the label, as well as influencing factors.

Expiration date on chicken

The median aged of the 514 respondents was 51 and there was slightly more men than women taking part in the study. The results, published in the October edition of the journal Food Control, found that respondents of households with people aged 65 or older, with safe food-handling practices and who judge foodborne infections as severe, were more prone to have read the label.

Respondents who find it a pity to throw away chicken after their expiration date were less likely to have read the label. About a seventh (15.4%) of those who completed the survey had never read the label.

Informing and educating consumers

The study also found that after reading the label during the survey, the intention to change behaviour did not differ between the readers and previous non-readers.

The report’s authors, from the Dutch Centre for Infectious Disease Control, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, concluded that “a label is a relatively easy and reasonable way of informing and educating consumers about safe food-handling.

“The majority of the respondents had read the label on poultry meat and scored it as important, useful and reassuring. Therefore investigating the feasibility and possible benefits of a similar label on other meat products could be worthwhile.”