The objectives of this paper are 2-fold, firstly to profile and identify 'high risk' demographic groups on the island of Ireland and secondly to investigate, with these groups, their knowledge of microbiological food safety and the microbiological food safety handling and preparation behaviours they engage in. A representative survey (n = 1025) was undertaken with quotas for age and social class. There was a total of 73 sampling points. Four 'high-risk' groups were identified using univariate analysis of variance: (1) 18-34 single males, non-students, without home economics training; (2) 18-24-year-old female homemakers without home economics training; (3) 45 + female homemakers with home economics training; and (4) 65 + males who are either widowed/divorced/separated (W/D/S). Time and financial constraints limited the number of groups (1/3/4), which could be qualitatively investigated in a meaningful way to 3. The findings indicated that these 'high-risk' groups were willing to engage in a range of behaviours that deviate from best practise guidelines. Personal (overconfidence; lack of interest), environmental (technological) and lifestyle (time and energy investment) characteristics were identified as the source cause of such deviating behaviour. (C) 2007 Published by Elsevier Ltd.