USC (US)—Residents in low-income areas of Los Angeles found at least one expired poultry, beef, or dairy product in about a third of store visits over a one-year period, according to a new study.
“The results in this particular study reflect the lack of access to quality food products that have been documented nationally in regards to African-American communities and other residents who live in low-income areas,” says LaVonna Lewis, professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development.
“This project builds on our previous research into the disparity of food options in our communities,” she continues.
Working with researchers, participating residents kept track of their own market visits and recorded expired foods in certain designated food categories during the Neighborhood Food Watch project. Data collected also revealed that in 18 percent of the visits, residents found at least three expired poultry, beef, and dairy items.
Using a method called community-based participation research, data collection for the Neighborhood Food Watch campaign started in April 2008 and ended in February of this year, and involved 90 members of the community who kept checklists of what they encountered during their food shopping trips.
A total of 657 checklists were received from the residents and 432 of the lists were centered on five unnamed stores that Lewis says included some well-known supermarket chains.
Participants in the campaign were recruited in areas where researchers suspected expired foods might be found, but the study did not place a geographical limit on the stores visited. The stores primarily were located in the Los Angeles area, but some residents filed reports from stores in other communities, and even out of state.
Looking just at the five unnamed grocery stores, the data for expired poultry ranged from 19.2 percent to 39.5 percent. The range was 20 percent to 41.8 percent for expired beef, and 26 percent to 45.4 percent for milk and dairy products.
The data did include some good news. Most of the stores visited by residents were providing sufficient access to special diet foods. Low sodium and sugar-free products were found in at least 95.4 percent of all stores, and soy and lactose-free products were found in 96.5 of all stores.
Lewis says that involving community members in the research is one way of enhancing participation and minimizing distrust among typically marginalized groups. The aim is to build partnerships by training residents in research skills and helping them to identify problems in their own community.
In this particular survey, 82.8 percent of the Neighborhood Food Watch campaign participants were African American and 10.6 percent were Hispanic/Latino. Women accounted for 90.2 percent of the participants.
The expired food study is part of a long-range research project Lewis is collaborating on with fellow USC professors David Sloane and Peter Robertso.
The first phase of the ongoing project started out with community members identifying specific health and nutrition concerns. The second phase focused on education, prevention, and assessment, such as documenting health food options in markets and restaurants in lower-income areas of Los Angeles.
The current phase is exploring ways to build on the findings of these studies through solutions, such as creating a hotline to report expired food.
“The quality of foods available to residents, whether it’s in a grocery store or a restaurant, has a tremendous impact on what residents choose to eat, and it also has the potential to affect their long-term health,” says Sloane.
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