Four in every ten Americans suffered through foodborne illnesses sometime during the last two years, according to a national poll conducted Jan. 13-15, 2010.

The Harris Poll by Harris Interactive, which surveyed 2,010 adults over the internet, found that 42 percent of the respondents were victims of foodborne illnesses during the past two years.

grocery-shopping1-featured.jpgHarris said the public’s perceptions about “food-attributed illness poses a major problem for our nation’s food manufacturers and suppliers.”  Almost seven in ten or 69 percent of those who were ill think they know the identity of the food item that made them sick.

“As a result, one-quarter (26 percent) of those who indicate they become sick from something they ate have eliminated that food from their diet entirely,” Harris reported.  “Moreover, another 15 percent indicate that they advised family, friends and colleagues not to eat that food item, increasing the impact of the individual experience.”

Four types of fresh foods are causing the public the most concern, according to the Harris researchers.  They are: fresh meats (31 percent); fresh poultry (23 percent); fresh fish (20 percent); and fresh vegetables (16 percent).

Yet, the Harris findings show that Americans are giving food manufacturers and suppliers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to food safety.  Most Americans, the pollster says, do not have large levels of concern about the safety of different foods.

Respondents were either extremely or very concerned about the following foods, by category: fresh foods (21 percent); canned foods (15 percent); other packaged foods (14 percent) and frozen foods (13 percent).

“When we cast our net broader and include those who are at least somewhat concerned we see that at least three quarters to one half of Americans are concerned to some extent that these foods are safe to eat: fresh foods (73 percent); packaged foods (64 percent); canned foods (59 percent) and frozen foods (53 percent),” said the pollster.

“While Americans generally trust our foods are safe to eat, the result of food-related illness can be a severe consumer backlash in form of a permanent de-selection and grass roots advocacy against consumption of a food product that can extend well after a bad experience,” Harris added.

“At worst, food illnesses can lead to heightened media scrutiny and more legislative and regulatory effort at the local, state, and national level.

Harris also found Americans do not feel they know enough about the health and nutritional value of foods.

The survey was conducted online but results were weighted for age, sex, race and ethnicity, education, region, and household income to bring them in line with the actual proportions in the population.