Consumer food safety confidence remains steady

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON — For the past three years, consumer confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply has remained steady with 47% of consumers rating themselves as confident in the safety of the U.S. foods, according to the “2010 Food & Health Survey,” which was conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation. Those not confident in the safety of food and beverages fell significantly in 2010, down to 18% from 24% in 2009, and those who are neither confident nor unconfident increased to 35% from 26% in 2009.

As in previous years, the survey showed there is consistency in consumers’ beliefs that food safety is primarily the responsibility of government (74%) and industry (70%). Overall, approximately one-third of the respondents (31%) see food safety as a shared responsibility among five or more stakeholders that include farmers and producers, retailers and consumers themselves.

Somewhat worse news is the fact that, while still high, there has been a decline in basic consumer food safety practices such as washing hands with soap and water (89% in 2010 vs. 92% in 2008). The same decline also was identified in microwave food safety practices, where 69% of survey respondents in 2010 (compared with 79% in 2008) follow all of the cooking instructions.

When asked to identify the most important food safety issue today, 44% of respondents identified foodborne illness from bacteria as the No. 1 issue, a decrease compared with the 2009 survey. Notable is that 39% of respondents identified “chemicals in food” as the most important food safety issue, an increase compared with 2009. The survey did not cite specific chemicals in the questionnaire.

The survey also showed that consumers primarily are getting their food safety information from television news programming (43%) and the Internet (32%). Information from government agencies or officials was cited by 14% of the survey respondents.

Thirty-seven per cent of respondents said they were not aware of any food supply safety practices. Among those consumers who said they were aware, improvements to packaging and “standard protocols” were the top two cited.

In its fifth year, the I.F.I.C. survey is designed to gain insight into how consumers view their own diets, the efforts they are taking to improve them, how they balance diet and exercise, and their actions when it comes to food safety practices. Conducted during a two-and-a half-week period in April and May 2010, the I.F.I.C. survey included 1,024 responses from adults.

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