Are food exposures obtained through commercial market panels representative of the general population? Implications for outbreak investigations

Thomas Inns*, D. Curtis, Paul Crook, Roberto Vivancos, D. Gardiner, Noel McCarthy, Piers Mook

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Current methods of control recruitment for case-control studies can be slow (a particular issue for outbreak investigations), resource-intensive and subject to a range of biases. Commercial market panels are a potential source of rapidly recruited controls. Our study evaluated food exposure data from these panel controls, compared with an established reference dataset. Market panel data were collected from two companies using retrospective internet-based surveys; these were compared with reference data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS). We used logistic regression to calculate adjusted odds ratios to compare exposure to each of the 71 food items between the market panel and NDNS participants. We compared 2103 panel controls with 2696 reference participants. Adjusted for socio-demographic factors, exposure to 90% of foods was statistically different between both panels and the reference data. However, these differences were likely to be of limited practical importance for 89% of Panel A foods and 79% of Panel B foods. Market panel food exposures were comparable with reference data for common food exposures but more likely to be different for uncommon exposures. This approach should be considered for outbreak investigation, in conjunction with other considerations such as population at risk, timeliness of response and study resources.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere99
JournalEpidemiology and Infection
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Andre Charlett for statistical advice on the methods of analysis and presentation of results. Thomas Inns, Roberto Vivancos and Noel McCarthy are affiliated to the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Gastrointestinal Infections at the University of Liverpool in partnership with Public Health England (PHE), in collaboration with University of East Anglia, University of Oxford and the Quadram Institute. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, the Department of Health or Public Health England.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


  • Case-control studies
  • Epidemiological study design
  • Gastrointestinal infection
  • Outbreaks


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