Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A qualitative exploration of the perceptions and information needs of public health inspectors responsible for food safety

Mai T Pham12*, Andria Q Jones12, Jan M Sargeant12, Barbara J Marshall3 and Catherine E Dewey12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, 50 Stone Road East, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada

2 Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses, 103 MacNabb House, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada

3 Centre for Food-borne, Environmental and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Public Health Agency of Canada, 120-255 Woodlawn Road West, Guelph, Ontario, N1H 8J1, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:345  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-345

Published: 16 June 2010



In Ontario, local public health inspectors play an important frontline role in protecting the public from foodborne illness. This study was an in-depth exploration of public health inspectors' perceptions of the key food safety issues in public health, and their opinions and needs with regards to food safety information resources.


Four focus group discussions were conducted with public health inspectors from the Central West region of Ontario, Canada during June and July, 2008. A questioning route was used to standardize qualitative data collection. Audio recordings of sessions were transcribed verbatim and data-driven content analysis was performed.


A total of 23 public health inspectors participated in four focus group discussions. Five themes emerged as key food safety issues: time-temperature abuse, inadequate handwashing, cross-contamination, the lack of food safety knowledge by food handlers and food premise operators, and the lack of food safety information and knowledge about specialty foods (i.e., foods from different cultures). In general, participants reported confidence with their current knowledge of food safety issues and foodborne pathogens. Participants highlighted the need for a central source for food safety information, access to up-to-date food safety information, resources in different languages, and additional food safety information on specialty foods.


The information gathered from these focus groups can provide a basis for the development of resources that will meet the specific needs of public health inspectors involved in protecting and promoting food safety.