Microbial pathogens cause many millions of cases of foodborne illness each year. The more common pathogens associated with foodborne illness include Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes. Illnesses caused by these microorganisms represent significant annual costs.
Although practices of food suppliers and food service establishments are important in reducing foodborne illness, research has shown that a substantial proportion is associated with improper food handling, preparation and consumption practices in the home. These can include inadequate cooking, inadequate cooling and storage, cross-contamination of raw and cooked foods, consumption of raw, undercooked or unsafe foods, and inadequate personal hygiene.

Consumer awareness of foodborne pathogens and better knowledge of safe food handling and preparation principles and practices can therefore play a role in reducing foodborne illness. Consumer education programmes are often used to increase awareness of foodborne pathogens, especially for individuals who are less likely to be aware of these microorganisms as a problem for food safety.
A study by Lin et al.1 investigated the awareness of US consumers in relation to four major microbial pathogens, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria and E. coli. Data collected in a 2001 national telephone survey was analysed using a multivariate probit model. There were noticeable variations in consumer awareness of the pathogens, which appeared to be related to the number and severity of illnesses associated with the pathogens. Awareness was also associated with food safety perceptions, awareness of potentially risky foods, safety-related behaviours and demographics.