Consumers Doubt Food Safety

January 21, 2011

There's no place like home (the U.S.) as a food source to consumers surveyed, who see need for improvements here too.

Where food buying is concerned, raising the U.S.A. flag isn’t a matter of pride to consumers. It’s a matter of safety.

Sticking to foods from the home front is a protective strategy for 95% of adults, who feel in varying degrees that food from other countries is less safe than U.S. foods. Of this overwhelming majority, 27% outright believe this, while 56% say ‘maybe, it depends on the country’ and 12% say ‘maybe, it depends on the food.’

More than three-quarters (76%) of respondents check country of origin labels on both fresh and packaged foods; the majority (67%) do this always/usually.

These are some of the most dramatic findings of an exclusive Quick Poll that imply supermarkets should be selective in their merchandising and portrayal of imports. While varieties and flavors entice many consumers, there’s a vast segment that is wary. With the right education and the right gate keeping practices, imports can add wonderfully to a store’s image, but success comes with the right execution. In our opinion at The Lempert Report, that should include inspections, quality standards, traceability and other health-guarding elements.

China (81%), Mexico (51%), Africa (47%) and South America (26%) are the most suspect sources—the nations and continents which people believe have the least food-safety oversight. As a result of this perception, U.S. adults say they avoid purchasing manufactured and imported foods from China (75%), Africa (43%), Mexico (41%) and South America (24%).

While the U.S. fares well relative to other parts of the world, 79% still feel that the U.S. itself needs more stringent policies to ensure food safety. The fear in people’s heads has 57% re-washing bagged lettuce and other vegetables that are labeled as ‘already washed.’ And only half the nation is convinced that either organic (50%) or Kosher foods (50%) are safer than most. Not surprisingly, only 60% say they’d pay any kind of a price premium for organic food—and for most of these people the acceptable premium would be 20% or less.

The top five foods that people feel are least safe are: Chicken/poultry (52%), lettuce (43%), fruits where the skin is eaten (34%), fish (26%) and meat (24%), the survey data show.