Consumers Express Little Confidence in Food Safety

July 6, 2009
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A new survey suggests recent food recalls have had a debilitating effect on consumer confidence in the safety of the nation's food supply.

A new survey by Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM suggests recent food recalls have had a debilitating effect on consumer confidence in the safety of the nation's food supply. According to the poll, which included 1,000 consumers in the 10 largest cities nationwide, fewer than 20 percent of consumers trust food companies to develop and sell food products that are safe and healthy, while 60 percent are concerned about the safety of food they purchase.

A whopping 83 percent of respondents were able to name a food product that was recalled in the past two years due to contamination or other safety concerns. Peanut butter was the most oft-cited product, mentioned by 46 percent of consumers surveyed, with spinach (15 percent) a distant second.

Not surprisingly, 63 percent of survey respondents confirmed they would not buy recalled food until the source of contamination had been found and addressed. But even after the problem was resolved, almost half said they would be less likely to purchase that food again, while 8 percent said they would never purchase the food again.

Only 55 percent of respondents said they trust food manufacturers to properly handle a recall involving contamination, indicating an erosion of trust over the past two years. More consumers, 72 percent, said they trust the store where they buy groceries to properly handle food recalls.

"These findings underscore how the rise in recalls and contamination has significantly eroded consumer confidence in food and product safety, as well as with the companies that manufacture and distribute these products," IBM said in a press release.

The survey also explored the relationship between concerns over food safety and increasing demand for information. According to IBM, 77 percent of consumers want more information about the content of food products they purchase, and 76 percent would like more information about the foods’ origin, suggesting that, despite industry efforts, "there's still a significant gap between consumer expectations and what retailers/manufacturers are providing."

The survey also found that consumers are spending more time poring over food labels to find out which ingredients were used, questioning supermarkets and manufacturers about products, paying closer attention to expiration dates, and doing more in-depth background checks on specific food brands and their origin.

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