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Liberals, conservatives agree on threat of foodborne pathogens

food decision 2016As Americans prepare for the second week of pre-empted prime time programming tonight with the beginning of the Democratic National Convention today in Philadelphia, there’s one thing that liberals and conservatives agree about — food safety.

“Foodborne illness from bacteria ranked first among both liberals and conservatives (with) 55 percent and 58 percent, respectively,” ranking it as their top food safety concern according to the 2016 Food and Health Survey.

One statistic that was not reported along party lines was the survey respondents’ overall confidence in the food supply. A full 66% of survey respondents said they are at least somewhat confident, up from 61% in 2015.

Also, a majority of the survey respondents, 53 percent, believe that modern agriculture produces safe foods.

“We are seeing a growing national food dialogue, and Americans are hungry for more information about nutrition and the food system,” said Kimberly Reed, in a news release about the survey. Reed is president of the International Food Information Council Foundation.

Conducted for the Washington D.C.-based foundation, the 11th annual survey included 1,003 Americans ages 18 to 80. The survey was executed by Greenwald & Associates, using ResearchNow’s consumer panel, from March 17-24. The results were published last week.

Some of the survey questions generated results showing differences among respondents who identified themselves as liberal or conservative:

  • IFICF 2016 survey graphLiberals more frequently cited pesticides as a top food safety issue, 38 percent compared with 24 percent of conservatives.
  • Conservatives cited carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals in food twice as often as liberals, 40 percent vs. 20 percent.
  • Somewhat liberal respondents were twice as likely as somewhat conservative respondents to cite food additives and ingredients as a top food safety concern, 12 percent vs. 6 percent.
  • More than half of liberals, 51 percent, reported reading an article examining the food system in the past year, while less than a third, 31 percent, of conservatives did.
  • Liberals more than conservatives cited the government as a top source of trusted information on the safety of food and ingredients, 58 percent vs. 46 percent.

Many of the survey results were not reported in terms of liberal or conservative views, but rather as combined numbers for both groups. Among those combined results were responses regarding foodborne illnesses.

With foodborne illnesses as the top food safety concern at 57 percent overall, the second and third concerns overall were chemicals at 50 percent and pesticides at 48 percent. That’s a change from 2015 when the question was asked slightly differently. The 2015 survey showed 36 percent said chemicals in food was their No. 1 food safety concern; foodborne illness from bacteria came in second at 34 percent, with pesticides in third place at 9 percent.

Public awareness of common foodborne illnesses is high, though it dropped in comparison to previous years.

Nine out of 10 respondents this year said they have heard of Salmonella as a problem in food, and seven in 10 have heard of E. coli O157 as a problem. In 2014’s survey 95 percent of respondents said they knew about Salmonella as a food safety problem.

The survey also showed that people have more faith in the safety of food if it comes from sources close to home.

“More than 70 percent of consumers trust the safety of food produced in their region of the country, while just 24 percent trust the safety of food from another country. Consumers were also more likely — 55 percent vs. 49 percent — to trust the safety of food from a local restaurant than the safety of food from a national chain restaurant,” according to the survey.

Consumers are also taking responsibility for their share of food safety, with 83 percent reporting washing their hands with soap and water and 74 percent reporting washing cutting boards with soap and water.

Four out of 10 respondents said they would be more likely to use a food thermometer if the recipes and cookbooks they used listed proper cooking temperatures in the directions.

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