According to an ongoing study, food safety concern is influencing choices consumers make at the supermarket.

The study–which is being conducted by Michigan State University (MSU) on behalf of DNV, a company that offers food safety solutions–found that consumers are highly aware of food safety issues and have “a high recognition of third party certification as an effective signal of food safety assurance.”

“Consumers are not only aware of food safety issues, they are actually changing their shopping habits due to food safety concerns,” says Dr. Chris Peterson, director of the Product Center at MSU. “Nearly half of the consumers we surveyed indicated a change in shopping patterns.”

The survey, which was conducted by an independent research firm under MSU guidance, surveyed 400 consumers across the country, representing a wide variety of demographics, education, and income levels.

“We are conducting a two-phase study with MSU,” said Kathy Wybourn, director of food safety solutions for DNV, in a company statement. “This first phase reflects consumer perceptions of food safety and third party food safety certification. We are moving into phase two where we’ll be interviewing various food industry professionals to get their pulse on the business processes and various auditing schemes that relate to food safety.”

The preliminary results also show that over a third of consumers are willing to pay a premium for third party food safety certification, “upwards of 30 percent or more,” according to the DNV release.

“It is interesting and important to note that higher price alone is not a direct signal of safer food,” said Dr. Peterson.”Even brand name recognition is not the most powerful indicator of safety.”

“Voluntary third party certification compares favorably with mandatory government inspection and slightly ahead of traceability labeling in the mind of the consumer,” added Peterson. “In fact, most consumers would advise the food industry to invest proportionately more in certification programs than in government inspection or traceability.”

According to Wybourn, industry efforts to improve safety should be consumer-focused.

“In the case of food safety we need to understand how the consumer evaluates safety signals and where they place their trust,” said Wybourn. “A certification label has strong positive meaning to the consumer in regard to food safety, and that conclusion itself is a signal to everyone involved in the food supply chain, be it growers or manufacturers or retailers, to intensify efforts to adopt clear and meaningful independent safety certification.”

MSU and DNV expect to have the second phase of survey results by late spring.