Salmonella in food is one of the issues that tops consumer awareness — coming in at 95 percent — but more than three quarters of Germans still consider food to be safe, according to a survey.

Findings come from the latest consumer monitor, a representative population survey from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). About 1,000 people living in private households who are at least 14 years old were interviewed in August by phone on behalf of the BfR.

Listeria in food was included in the survey for the first time and was only known to just under half of respondents, but almost one fifth are concerned about this topic. The survey also found relatively little concern about some bacteria in food, such as Campylobacter, which is known to only a quarter of respondents.

Low concern about food poisoning
A Eurobarometer survey on food safety in Europe with 28,000 participants in 28 member states in April 2019 found differences in risk perception within the EU. A European comparison shows that Germany is less concerned (22 percent) about “food poisoning from bacteria” than the EU as a whole (30 percent).

Mycotoxins in food is more widely known and alarms more people than in the previous BfR survey in February 2019 with almost half of the respondents concerned about it.

Professor Andreas Hensel, BfR president, said: “The fact that people now regard mycotoxins in food to be just as dangerous as Salmonella or plant protection product residue shows how quickly the perception of health risks is changing.”

Respondents still perceive poor or unhealthy diets, climate and environmental pollution, and smoking as the biggest health risks. When asked about selected topics, Salmonella in food, genetically modified food, and antimicrobial resistance topped consumer awareness.

A total of 95 percent of people were aware of Salmonella in food with just under half concerned about it. Less than a fifth of respondents said they were concerned about food hygiene at home.

Nearly half said the quality of food was tending to decrease with only 16 percent saying it was increasing. Almost half said the safety of food is staying the same with only 17 percent stating it was going up.

Risk perception in Austria
Meanwhile, the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) also released a survey on risk perception among the population, doctors and journalists.

In Austria, pesticide residues in food are at the top of the population’s concern scale and are also among top issues for doctors and journalists. Two thirds of respondents felt they were not sufficiently informed about food safety issues but compared to 2018 concerns about food safety have increased.

The low level of concern about pathogenic microorganisms in food remained unchanged from previous years despite outbreaks and deaths in the country meaning risk perception should be higher.

In 2018, Austria recorded 27 cases of Listeria with eight deaths; 7,982 of Campylobacter with six deaths; 1,533 of Salmonella with five deaths, 1,572 of norovirus with four deaths and 300 E. coli infections.

Thomas Kickinger, AGES managing director, said Austrians pay little attention to the risk of pathogens in food.

“Although there are thousands of illnesses and deaths every year. Unfortunately, people’s anxiety often has nothing to do with an actual risk. Basically, Austrians have confidence in food safety. However, they react to unknowns, such as microplastics in foods or new food technologies, with great concern regardless of whether there is any risk at all.”

The survey found for the first time, the internet was the primary source of information on risk issues, followed by television and newspapers.

Doctors are most worried about microplastics in food, while journalists perceive hormone-like substances as the greatest risk. The population considers microplastics to be the main risk.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)