Boston, MA- As the FDA oversaw a massive egg recall for possible salmonella contamination, most Americans were aware of the outbreak and substantial numbers took steps to protect themselves from getting sick, according to a new national poll by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The poll was conducted August 27-30, 2010. As of August 24, 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had identified approximately 1,469 reported illnesses nationwide that were likely to be associated with this outbreak.
Americans’ awareness of the egg recall was very high, with 84% of the public having heard about it. The vast majority of Americans (92%) report that they eat eggs at least occasionally. About a third of these stopped eating eggs they thought were involved in the recall, while 14% stopped eating eggs altogether. Of those egg-eaters who ever eat eggs in restaurants (61%), nearly one in five stopped doing so. About a quarter of egg-eaters reported cooking eggs longer.
Many Americans also responded to the recall by checking the eggs in their own homes. Among those who had eggs in their homes in the last three weeks, nearly four in ten checked the date stamp or identifying number on the egg cartons, while 10% threw away eggs they thought were on the recall list. In addition, the recall prompted 22% of Americans to contact family members or friends to make sure they knew about the issue.
“Public health officials were able to reach most Americans with information about the recall,” said Professor Robert Blendon of the Harvard Opinion Research Program at HSPH and an expert in understanding the public response to emergencies that involve health threats. “This is essential in an outbreak this widespread.”
Though significant numbers took precautions against illness, the majority of Americans were not worried about getting sick from eating eggs. Only 30% of the public reported being very or somewhat worried that they or someone in their family might get ill.
This poll was conducted by the Harvard Opinion Research Program (HORP) at the Harvard School of Public Health. The study was designed and analyzed by researchers at HORP. The project director is Robert J. Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health. The research team also includes John M. Benson, Gillian K. SteelFisher, and Kathleen J. Weldon of the Harvard School of Public Health, and Melissa J. Herrmann of SSRS.
Fieldwork was conducted via telephone (including both landline and cell phone) for HORP by SSRS of Media (PA), August 27-30, 2010, among a nationally representative sample of 1083 respondents age 18 and older. Of those, a total of 1001 are egg-eaters (those who eat eggs often or occasionally or did so before the recall). The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.
The margin of error for total respondents is +/-3.66 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The margin of error for egg-eaters is +/- 3.80 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
This poll, part of the ongoing Harvard School of Public Health series focused on the public’s response to public health emergencies, is funded under a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Public Health Information Coalition. The award enables HORP to provide technical assistance to the CDC and FDA, as well as to other national and state government health officials in order to support two critical goals: (1) to better understand the general public’s response to public health emergencies, including biological threats and natural disasters, as they unfold and (2) to provide critical feedback to policy makers in a short time frame, enabling its integration into related public health policies and messaging.
Harvard School of Public Health (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu ) is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery, and communication. More than 400 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 1,000-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights. For more information on the school visit: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu