Consumer confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply has remained steady for the third year in row
Consumer confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply has remained steady for the third year in row, according to the recent2010 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety, Nutrition & Health, commissioned by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation. The study, now in it’s fifth year, found that nearly half of Americans (47%) rate themselves as confident in the food supply, and those not confident fell significantly to 18%, down from 24% in 2009.
Trust in the food supply, however, could be making consumers complacent. Over the last few years, there has been a steady decline in basic consumer food safety practices like hand washing with soap and water (89% vs. 92% in 2008), washing of cutting boards (78% vs. 84% in 2008) and cooking to the required temperature (72% vs. 76% in 2008). Microwave food safety practices are declining as well, with 69% of consumers (vs. 79% in 2008) following all cooking instructions.
Interestingly, this all could tie into the fact that most consumers believe food safety is primarily the responsibility of the government (74%) and industry (70%). Only 31% view food safety as something that consumers, combined with farmers, producers, retailers, and other stakeholders, should be responsible for. These numbers are also fairly consistent with findings from previous years.
Meanwhile, food safety does influence how consumers use information on food packaging. Sixty-six percent of consumers examine the expiration date before making a purchase, and an increasing number of consumers read allergen labeling (11% vs. 6% in 2008). Brand name recognition plays a part too, with 50% of consumers (vs. 40% in 2008) actively using this information to make their purchasing decisions.
Ultimately though, consumers rely on taste (86%), and less on safety concerns, when heading to the check out lane. As compared to prior studies, taste remains the largest influence on purchasing decisions (86%), even in this current depressed economic climate. Healthfulness and convenience influence slightly more than half of consumers at 58% and 56%, respectively; price is important to 73% of consumers, up from 64% in 2006.
While it is good news that confidence is generally high among consumers in regard to the U.S. food supply, gaps in safe food handling knowledge must be addressed. There is concern among many thought leaders that people have lost the skill of cooking and so helping people learn how to prepare food and follow good food safety practices is of interest to many.
Elizabeth Rahavi, RD, Associate Director of Health & Wellness for IFIC, says that the retailer’s position within the community can make their store an ideal place for education, training or a meeting location. If there is room and the necessary equipment, grocery stores can be neighborhood hub and resource to help teach Americans how to prepare and serve safe and healthful food.
Retailers can also partner with Registered Dietitians & local organizations, like a neighborhood school, or like-minded national organizations to identify needs and develop action plans that can help consumers in their effort to obtain a healthy weight and active lifestyle, says Rahavi. The possibilities are limitless and aren’t always resource intensive.
She adds, “We all have a role to play in creating an environment that helps people succeed with their health and nutrition goals. Certainly, retailers have an important role to play. In fact, our survey found that 88 percent of Americans conduct the bulk of their household shopping in a grocery store. Retailers can help consumers by providing them with choices and information; this is especially true when it comes to providing information about food safety.”
Read Part I of our coverage on the IFIC 2010 Food & Health Survey, which looked more closely at consumer perceptions about overall health and diet here.