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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Food consumption patterns in the Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada: a cross-sectional telephone survey

Andrea Nesbitt12*, Shannon Majowicz12, Rita Finley2, Frank Pollari2, Katarina Pintar3, Barbara Marshall2, Angela Cook3, Jan Sargeant4, Jeff Wilson1, Carl Ribble5 and Lewinda Knowles6

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

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

3 Laboratory for Foodborne Zoonoses, Public Health Agency of Canada, 120-255 Woodlawn Road West, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

4 Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses, & Department of Population Medicine, CLRE 203, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

5 Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary, G380, 3330 Hospital Dr. N.W., Calgary, Alberta, Canada

6 Region of Waterloo Public Health, Region of Waterloo, 99 Regina Street South, 3rd Floor, Waterloo, Ontario, N2J 4V3, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:370  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-370

Published: 24 October 2008



The demographics and lifestyles of Canadians are changing, thereby influencing food choices and food preparation in the home. Although different dietary practices are associated with increased risk of foodborne illness, our ability to evaluate food consumption trends and assess risks associated with foodborne illness is limited by lack of data on current eating habits and consumer food safety practices. The objective of this study was to describe, for the first time, the food consumption patterns in a Canadian-based population from a food safety perspective, in order to establish baseline data on actual food intake of individuals.


A cross-sectional telephone survey of 2,332 randomly selected residents of Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada (C-EnterNet pilot site) was conducted between November 2005 and March 2006. Food intake was assessed using a 7-day dietary recall method.


Certain food items were consumed more than others among the same food groups, and consumption of many food items varied by gender and age. Specific foods considered high-risk for the transmission of certain enteric pathogens were significantly more likely to be consumed by males (i.e. unpasteurized juice, bean sprouts, and undercooked meat) and elderly individuals (i.e. undercooked eggs). The majority of households prepared and consumed most meals at home, allocating an average of 44 minutes to prepare a meal.


Baseline data on actual food intake is useful to public health professionals and food safety risk assessors for developing communication messages to consumers and in foodborne outbreak investigations.