The vast majority of Americans have confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply, according to a new survey by the International Food Information Council, a food industry communications group.
The “2012 Food & Health Survey” shows a jump over last year’s confidence numbers, which IFIC found particularly interesting considering the survey was fielded during the first two weeks of April when food safety headlines — about Salmonella sushi, E. coli beef and new limits in antibiotics in agriculture — were widespread.
The survey found that 78 percent of those surveyed were either “somewhat confident” or “very confident” in the safety of the domestic food supply. Last year that number was closer to 50 percent.
“This year was a little higher,” said Marianne Smith Edge, the senior vice president of nutrition and food safety at IFIC, though she noted that the question was phrased differently this year. Instead of asking those surveyed if they were “extremely confident” they changed it to “very confident” on the high end of the spectrum.
Though the vast majority of Americans have thought about the safety of food and beverages over the past year — 85 percent reported giving “a little” or “a lot” of thought — most Americans think the chances are low they will themselves come down with foodborne illness.
“What I think is interesting is that more than 50 percent think their chance is extremely low,” said Smith Edge. Fifty seven percent of consumers said they “strongly” or “somewhat agree” that the chances they will get a serious foodborne illness are extremely low. Some consumers disagreed: 27 percent “somewhat disagree” and 9 percent “strongly disagree.”
The survey found that a much lower percentage of Americans have confidence in the safety of imported food, which now comprises around 15 percent of all the food consumed in the United States.
Imported foods are “less safer than foods produced and grown in the USA,” according to 48 percent of those surveyed. Around 28 percent said that imports were equally as safe. IFIC reported that Hispanic consumers were twice as likely to rate imported and domestic foods as equally safe.
On the whole, 61 percent of consumers think imported foods are less safe, and that number is identical to last year’s IFIC data. Those who believe imported food is not as safe reported overwhelmingly — 77 percent — that their perception was due to other countries having more lax regulations and fewer inspections. A slightly smaller percentage believe that either other countries producing food have less sanitary conditions or that foods become contaminated on the way to the Untied States — 61 and 60 percent, respectively.
Though consumers were more wary of imported food, 58 percent acknowledged that foodborne illness can come from domestic and imputed food products and 53 percent admitted that “the U.S. food supply has food safety issues too.”
When consumers do learn of food safety issues, only a small minority of them report that they will stop buying a product for that reason. The survey found that 17 percent of consumers in the last year stopped buying a specific brand of type of food or beverage due to a food safety concern.
The IFIC survey also asked consumers how good a job they thought certain elements of the food chain are doing to ensure the safety of food. A whopping 94 percent of consumers reported that the person who prepares food in their own home does either a “good,” “very good,” or “excellent” job ensuring safety. Farmers and producers came in second at 82 percent, retailers at 73 percent, food manufacturers 73 percent, food service and restaurants 65 percent, and 56 percent said the government.
Smith Edge said she found it interesting that home food preparers were given the most trust, even though many studies have shown that “sometimes the biggest violators of food safety are at home.”
The IFIC survey, which was conducted by Mathew Greenwald & Associates in Washington, DC, involved 1,057 consumers ages 18 to 80 and was reflective of the demographics — age, education, gender, ethnicity, and region — of the United States.