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Exploring Food Safety Implications of Home Fruit Dehydration: A Case Study of Apple Drying
Dried fruits have traditionally received little food safety attention despite multiple Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks associated with low-moisture foods. Given the popularity of dried apples, many consumers produce dried apples at home. However, little is known about this niche population, their apple drying practices and their sources of food safety information. Therefore, this thesis aimed to use apple drying as a case study to i) identify the fruit drying practices in a domestic setting, ii) determine the factors influencing the associated behaviors and iii) evaluate the food safety information in fruit drying recipes.
The first two studies used quantitative methods with survey data on home apple dryers in the United States. In the first, apple drying practices were identified and evaluated for level of food safety using a safe practice index. Then, regression analyses showed the influence of demographic factors, attitudes, perceived behavioral control (PBC), subjective norms, risk perception and exposure to food safety information on selected apple drying practices. The third study was a content analysis using a qualitative approach to analyze recipe information on blogs, YouTube videos, cookbooks and university extension publications.
Findings revealed that the level of safe food handling in home apple drying was low. Home apple dryers had inadequate frequency of handwashing during apple preparation, potential points of cross-contamination from kitchen tools, a lack of hurdle technology without an apple pre-treatment step, failure to incorporate a thermal kill step during drying, and a lack of objective measurements to ensure that target parameters are attained. The investigated demographic factors, risk perception and food safety information or training had significant influence on current safe apple handling behaviors. Attitudes, PBC and subjective norms were strong predictors of behavior intention. An evaluation of apple drying recipes showed that food safety emphasis was missing. There were omission of food safety controls and a lack of standardization in the recommended procedures.
The results provided handling practice data to support the development of more accurate food safety risk assessment models, and to guide the development of food safety education for home apple dryers. It urged the need for food safety improvement not only in home apple dryers’ practices, but also the information disseminated to them.