Quick Poll: Consumers would spend more to guarantee red meat safety

Articles
November 18, 2009

Quick Poll:  Consumers would spend more to guarantee red meat safety

America remains in love with the burger, despite high-profile ground beef recalls that affect consumer confidence in the safety of our national supply.

America remains in love with the burger, despite high-profile ground beef recalls that affect consumer confidence in the safety of our national supply. Just weeks ago, the latest major recall required the destruction of a half-million pounds of ground beef – and raised the number of E.coli incidents to 18 since 2007, The New York Times reported.

How did people respond to this latest contamination? A significant majority (62%) told SupermarketGuru.com in an exclusive Quick Poll they would be willing to spend 25 cents more per pound for ground beef if it absolutely guaranteed safety.  

Could that amount of money be channeled directly to improve safety practices at different levels of the supply chain? Could it be adequately accounted for? Would it be enough? These questions remain open. But consumer willingness to spend more, while families scrimp in so many areas of their household budgets, seems dramatic to us.

Among key motivators for consumers to change their red meat eating habits, the risk of E.coli and food poisoning scares ranked only as #2 reason – cited by 36% of survey respondents.

The #1 driver is the public’s overarching concern about health prevention (aiming to limit cholesterol, fat and heart disease risk) – named by 41% in the SupermarketGuru.com poll.

That aside, more than half of the survey takers (52%) feel the nation’s red meat supply needs to be made safer from E.coli and other food adulterants. About one-third (34%) characterizes the meat supply as “safe – occasional food poisoning is unavoidable.”

The growing national spotlight on E.coli has led many Americans to shift their red meat buying and consuming habits. Most frequently, 43% now cook their red meat until it at least medium; 36% buy their ground beef from supermarkets; and 26% regularly use a temperature probe, the findings show. Another 15% each say they “only eat ground beef at home” or “purchase ground beef and red meats only from a butcher.”

Despite consumer wariness, the majority (52%) says they continue to eat the same amount of red meat as a year ago, while 44% say they eat less.  This behavior occurs most commonly “two or more times a week” (40%), “a few times a month” (31%), or “every other day” (11%).

Who is responsible for the safety of red meat, in the eyes of consumers? They named the meat industry (34%), the USDA (25%), and the FSIS Inspection Service (23%) most often. Since they named many parties, including themselves, it’s clear people think that red meat safety is a shared responsibility.

That’s probably a good thing, because America’s burger romance keeps sizzling nonetheless. Red meat risks may never be fully eradicated. But if everyone—from ranchers to butchers, restaurateurs and backyard grillers—keeps raising the bar on best handling practices, our future surveys could well reflect more widespread happiness with the supply of one of our all-time favorite foods.