1. Home
  2. Understand your audience
  3. Case studies

The Use of Online Focus Groups to Design an Online Food Safety Education Intervention

Authors: Ashley Bramlett Mayer and Judy A. Harrison

Journal of Food Science Education, Volume 11, Issue 4, 2012, Pages 47–51


In the development of an online food safety education intervention for college students, online focus groups were used to determine the appropriate format and messages. Focus groups are often used in qualitative research and formative evaluation of public health programs, yet traditional focus groups can be both difficult and expensive to coordinate. Online focus groups offer an alternative means of discovering the attitudes and opinions of hard-to-reach populations. Online focus groups were facilitated in a university-supported web-based learning environment (E-Learning Commons) with students at the University of Georgia, and students discussed questions related to food safety and Internet-based education. Focus group transcripts were categorized by responses to each of the questions, and results were reported in terms of frequency. Students identified personally relevant food safety messages, preferred delivery tools and strategies for food safety education, and known sources for food safety information. Online focus groups were found to be an effective and inexpensive means of determining students’ preferences for learning about food safety using the Internet and social media. Results from the online focus groups were used to design a social media-based food safety education intervention to improve young adults’ food safety attitudes, practices and knowledge.