ConAgra Home Food Safety Initiative
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

ConAgra Home Food Safety Initiative

Leveraging the power of the ADA spokesperson network, home food safety messages have successfully reached consumers, dietitians, culinary professionals, political influencers and media.

Paul Holmes


The American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the ConAgra Foundation are dedicated to educating consumers on how to prevent foodborne illness in the home.  Leveraging the power of the ADA spokesperson network, home food safety messages have successfully reached consumers, dietitians, culinary professionals, political influencers and media.


During the past several years, the national media placed the spotlight on what seemed like an alarming number of foodborne outbreaks.  For the first time, foodborne illness topped the list of nutritional topics discussed in the media -- surpassing even fat -- according to a 1998 International Food Information Council report. Although the U.S. has the world’s safest food supply, negative media coverage weakened consumer confidence about the nation’s food.

Missing from media reports was crucial information about the role consumers play in keeping food safe at home. The home is one of the most common places for foodborne illness to occur, with reported in-home cases rising by 25 percent from 1990 to 1995, according to a 1998 Federal Drug Administration report.     

ConAgra Foods, Inc. (ConAgra), one of the largest food companies in the world, recognized a need for consumer education about proper food handling at home.  Although there were several established food safety initiatives, none was directed solely toward consumers. A wealth of research pointed to a lack of basic, yet important, information about HOME food safety.  

A food leader, ConAgra, through its foundation, wanted to develop an impactful food safety campaign that would speak directly to consumers.   The challenge was to communicate consumers’ critical role in the food safety solution -- without placing blame or deflecting corporate responsibility. 

ConAgra identified the American Dietetic Association (ADA) as an organization with unparalleled consumer confidence and an outstanding spokesperson network.  ADA’s power to effectively deliver messages to consumers, coupled with ConAgra’s food safety record, gave both organizations reason to join in commitment.  Together, they partnered to educate consumers about proper home food safety behavior through a multi-year national public awareness campaign, Home Food Safety…It’s in Your Hands. 


The program targets women, ages 24-44 years of age.  Research shows that this audience is the main meal preparer in the home.


Research has been, and continues to be, a critical program component.  Preliminary research suggested: 

  • The mishandling of food at home is a serious and growing problem.
  • There is a lack of consumer information about food safety at home.

Focus groups tested food safety themes and identified the most effective ways to reach consumers with key messages:

  • Consumers want to be empowered to take control of home food safety.
  • Main meal preparers admit… they need more information about food safety at home.

A quantitative survey gauged consumer knowledge versus practice, and was a vehicle to driving media coverage.  Conclusions: 

  • Consumers are hungry to learn about food safety…with a caveat: information must be easy to understand and apply.
  • There is no direct correlation between education level and proper food handling behavior.

A benchmark survey was conducted in 1999 to monitor behavioral change over time.  Yankelovich Partners was commissioned so that the information would be credible within the food safety industry.  The research will be repeated at the end of the program.  Conclusions:

  • Virtually all consumers (98 percent) believe they have a responsibility to ensure food safety.
  • There are obvious gaps between consumer knowledge and practice.
  • The media plays an important role in delivering home food safety messages.



  • Position ConAgra Foods and the American Dietetic Association as the nation’s premier partners in home 
  • food safety.   
  • Educate consumers about proper food safety practices to motivate them to modify their behavior accordingly.  


  • Focus on an under-served “niche” – consumer education about home food safety;  
  • Use empowerment messages to motivate consumers while avoiding scare tactics (e.g. kill bacteria);
  • Complement government-sponsored food safety initiatives that speak to the leading critical food handling violations: hand washing, cross-contamination, cooking and refrigeration temperatures;  
  • Leverage the partnership with ADA and its powerful spokesperson network (30 media-trained registered dietitians) for media opportunities;
  • Utilize an “expert” panel that comprises government, academia and industry food safety leaders to provide strategic counsel and reinforce credibility within the food safety community;   
  • Draw traffic to the ADA/ConAgra Web site,, to further disseminate key messages; 
  • Reach diverse audiences by extending outreach efforts to Hispanic and African-American markets;
  • Monitor consumer behavioral change over time with benchmark research to evaluate program success.

Key Messages

ADA and ConAgra want to raise consumer awareness that home food safety is a serious problem and provide easy solutions so that people can handle food safely in their own kitchens.

Home Food Safety…It’s in Your Hands” is about four simple food safety tips that can significantly reduce the threat of foodborne illness: 1)Wash hands often; 2) Keep raw meats and ready-to-eat foods separate; 3) Cook to proper temperatures; 4) Refrigerate promptly below 40° F.


Used a logo that visually enticed (did not threaten) main meal preparers, featuring a cutting board as the icon for “home kitchen” and food preparation. 

Reinforced four key food safety tips through educational materials, including: brochure, bookmarks, consumer giveaway items (i.e., cutting boards, meat thermometers), Web site and the world’s largest meat thermometer. 

Supported government-sponsored programs such as USDA’s Thermy Campaign, by distributing its materials at a consumer festival.

Media trained the ADA spokesperson network, arming them with media kits that featured: props to complement key messages (i.e., soap, cutting boards, thermometers); signage; an apron to wear on camera; press materials; and tips for media interviews.

Leveraged expert panel for strategic counsel and program development by: 1) studying Dr. Alan Levy’s (Chief Consumer Studies Branch of the Food and Drug Administration) consumer behavior research to understand trends; 2) creating a public service announcement with celebrity chef Graham Kerr; and 3) representing ADA/ConAgra at various industry events (e.g., Healthy People 2010). 

Conducted aggressive media relations during the summer, when food safety concerns are highest among consumers and foodborne illness is at a peak; kicked off Memorial Day weekend with an online summer food safety contest.

Showcased the program using the ADA Hispanic spokesperson at Miami’s Calle Ocho, one of the largest Hispanic food festivals in the world; conducted a media tour with the ADA African-American spokesperson during the National Barbecue Battle in Washington, D.C.

Conveyed survey findings to registered dietitians, public health professionals, media and consumers to emphasize the importance of changing consumer behavior.


  • The home food safety program has generated more than 145 million media impressions to date.
  • Broadcast and print placements appeared in all of the top 25 markets, including: Later Today, Pure Oxygen,The Associated Press, Working Mother, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times,The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Miami Herald.
  • The ADA spokesperson network secured 200+ media interviews about home food safety with 100% participation.  
  • The PSA was distributed to 200 media outlets nationwide with 850+ airings in 27 markets (e.g., Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Raleigh) within the first three months. 
  • The expert panel’s counsel determined program development that contributed to the food safety guideline incorporated in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • The online summer contest quadrupled traffic on the ADA/ConAgra Web site during the first month of the contest.  In June, 24,000 consumers logged on and 10,000 of those consumers took the online quiz.  Monthly traffic increased from 2,000 to 6,000 visitors.  The Web site has attracted more than 70,000 visitors to date.
  • At Calle Ocho, the ADA Hispanic spokesperson and team distributed more than 15,000 giveaways to consumers. Hispanic outreach totals more than four million media impressions to date.  
  • During the National Barbecue Battle, ADA African-American spokesperson conducted interviews with broadcast and print media in Washington, D.C.
  • Yankelovich research will be repeated in 2002 to monitor behavioral change. 
comments powered by Disqus