Summer 1987 // Volume 25 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW2

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High Consumer Confidence


Virginia N. Hillers
Extension Food Specialist
Washington State University-Pullman

Mary J. Fox
Nutrition Consultant
Pullman, Washington

The Master Food Preserver (MFP) program was developed in Washington State in 1976 to ease the burden on county agents who, each year, were answering more than 25,000 consumer requests for food preservation information. Washington's MFP volunteers receive 30 hours of training in food preservation. In return, they pledge to donate 50 hours of service to Extension.

We conducted a study to find out whether consumers felt confident in the food preservation information given by the MFP's. The sample was randomly selected from a list of people who'd received food preservation information from a Washington Master Food Preserver. The initial mailing was sent to 729 people; the number in the sample for each county was based on the number of food preservation telephone calls received in the county. The response rate was 81 % (N = 592).

Most consumers who participated in the study were experienced home food preservers, with 60% having preserved food for more than 10 years. Only seven percent had less than two years experience. Fifty-six percent had contacted Extension previously.

Extension agents have a history of being a primary source of information about food preservation. We wanted to find out whether consumers were satisfied when they received information from a trained volunteer rather than a professional. The consumers reported a high degree of confidence that the food preservation information they received from the Master Food Preserver volunteers was accurate. Their questions were usually promptly answered.

Almost all (98%) indicated they would contact Extension again for such information. The small number who indicated they wouldn't contact Extension again said they expected to need no further information on food preservation. No one reported a lack of confidence in Extension or Master Food Preservers as a reason for not contacting Extension for food preservation information in the future.

In a companion study of MFP volunteers, we found that faculty time invested in volunteer training was returned more than six-fold by the volunteers. The multiplier effect of the program continues at the consumer level, since 80% of the consumers said they'd shared the information with at least one or two others.

We've concluded that the use of highly trained Master Food Preservers is a successful method for reaching large numbers of people, and clientele are very satisfied when they receive information from an MFP. The multiplier effect of this educational effort is impressive.