In early October, I had the pleasure of attending the 5th Annual Center for Food Integrity (CFI) Food System Summit in Chicago.  This year’s Summit brought together a diverse group of food system members including farmers, producers, processors, manufacturers, academicians, food scientists, health professionals and others to hear from food safety and nutrition experts on key issues facing the food system.

The question “Can We Trust Our Food?” served as the central theme of this year’s Summit and set the stage for interactive discussion regarding the many facets of food production, including food animal well-being, nutrition and health, food safety, and technology and innovation. Over the course of the two-day Summit, expert panelists delved into this very question, which is increasingly on the minds of many consumers, opinion leaders and the media as interest in the “farm to fork” process continues to grow.

After hearing from several experts on how to communicate with the public in order to improve trust in the food supply, I returned with a few key takeaways. I was reminded that food and health communicators have the responsibility to:

Understand the current food and health environment, as well as consumers’ attitudes and beliefs about food and health before attempting to engage your audience.  We live in a society where information is abundant and accessible “24-7.” While the quality and accuracy of this information is sometimes lacking, it still has the ability to impact public perceptions.

Realize what’s at stake if credible communicators don’t engage in the dialogue and work to build trust and confidence in our food supply.  With global food needs predicted to double by the year 2050, we can’t afford to stymie innovations that will continue to provide a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply in the future.

Act Now! It’s time to change the conversation by talking about the benefits of the food supply we enjoy today. Whether that means refreshing your risk communication skills, evaluating both the intended and unintended consequences of your nutrition or food safety messages, or demystifying food and health controversies, it’s important to remember that gaps in food knowledge can be filled with science-based facts or unscientific opinions.  As communicators, we need to make our science-based information relevant, positive and appealing to the audiences we are trying to reach.

After hearing and learning from several respected nutrition and food safety experts, I came away with a renewed commitment and sense of urgency to continue to enhance my food and health communications. If you are a communicator who is reading this blog post, I hope you’ll do the same!

Improving Consumer Trust in Today’s Food System” by Kerry (Robinson) Phillips, RD, first appeared on the International Food Information Council’s Food Insights Blog on October 14, 2010.