When the 117-year old UL (Underwriters Laboratories) has something to say about global food safety, it’s probably a good idea to listen up.

This time, UL is out with a survey of both consumer attitudes and the views of food manufacturers when it comes to food safety. It covers global perceptions from consumers and manufacturers in China, India, Germany and the United States.

Food is one of the subjects covered in the larger UL report titled “Navigating the Product Mindset.”  For the Food Industry section of the report,  UL conducted 2,430 quantitative interviews with manufacturers and consumers in the four countries.

“Food manufacturers understand that product safety is imperative to the success of their business, but a significant opportunity remains to better demonstrate and communicate their commitment to boost consumer confidence,” says Hank Lambert, general manager of UL’s Global Food and Water Businesses.  “This research demonstrates the importance of moving existing food safety management to the next level.”

Among UL’s findings regarding manufacturers are these:

– Only 2 percent of the food manufacturers think that their company is behind the curve regarding the safety of their products.

– Food safety has the largest impact on the ability of manufacturers’ ability to compete in the world marketplace today.

– Manufacturers believe they are responsible for food safety, not government agencies, consumer groups, or retailers. They also think it is their job to communicate product safety information to consumers.

– Manufacturers agree consumers have become more empowered and command greater influence across the supply chain, causing them to most value consumer claims about their product.

– More than 50 percent of food manufacturers agree there is a direct relationship between the safety or quality of the product and the country of origin.

– Environmentally friendly products are viewed as profitable by 59 percent of manufacturers, with Chinese food manufacturers being the most optimistic about the profitability of such products and U.S. manufacturers having the largest concern about such products.

When asked to select only one “key factor,” 41 percent of the responding manufacturers said product and food safety was their key concern. Other “key factors” mentioned include product innovation, reliability, sustainability, speed to market, design and environmentally friendly packaging.

And, 92 percent of the world food manufacturers agreed that product safety is becoming more important.

In its consumer findings, UL found:

– World consumers feel food safety is unchanged over the last two years or slightly improved.  The exception is China, where consumers say both fresh and processed foods have worsened.

– Foodborne illnesses, chemical additives and poor sanitary conditions are consumers’ primary safety concerns.

– Performance and safety are both important to food consumers, and 76 percent of world food consuemrs say they find it difficult to find product safety information.

– Half of all world consumers say they are aware of country of orgin and half believe country of origin will become more important in the next five years.

– A full 69 percent say it’s more important to know the country of origin than to know the product’s ingredients.

– Consumers have more confidence in the food safety of a product from a developed country than one in the Third World.

– Consumers think manufacturers can still do a better job.

When world consumers are evaluating a product, freshness and performance (which 42 percent cited) and safety (which 38 percent cited) were far more important than whether the product was organically grown or raised — only 7 percent put organic food at the top of their list.

The survey also found consumers were most concerned about contracting foodborne illnesses when eating fresh foods, and being exposed to chemical additives when consuming processed food.

The UL study also found consumers are skeptical about how food manufacturers are doing, with a full 71 percent saying products are no better than five years ago.  Consumers expressed the least satisfaction with processed foods.

UL is perhaps the world’s best-known independent safety science company with 9,000 professionals employed in 96 countries.  For more information about UL’s Food Safety Services, visit www.ul.com/foodsafety.