Industry News | March 11, 2009

Food Just as Scary as Terrorists, Consumers Say

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On the heels of the largest product recall in U.S. history, an American Society for Quality (ASQ) survey reveals that although the majority of the food industry may be following safe production procedures, the majority of the public doesn’t feel it does enough.

Food safety is still igniting widespread concern according to the survey of U.S. adults conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of ASQ.

ASQ conducted the survey to gauge how consumers feel about food safety, food recalls, and where responsibility lies when it comes to tainted food. The survey finds:

* 93 percent of adults say food manufacturers, growers, or suppliers should be held legally responsible when individuals are fatally sickened by tainted food.

* 61 percent of U.S. adults feel the U.S. food-recall process is only fair or poor.

* 73 percent of adults say they are as equally concerned about food safety as the war on terror.

* 82 percent of adults believe that the food industry should be required to follow international standards on food safety.

“The United States overall does have a safe food supply,” says Steven Wilson, member of ASQ’s board of directors and ASQ food-safety expert. “However, whether food manufacturers have process controls in place or not, some have plant sanitation issues that they need to address.”

Wilson says there are also other issues to consider. “The problem lies with a specific outbreak. Determining its root cause is often difficult and necessary, otherwise correcting the root cause and preventing future outbreaks can’t be achieved.”

Government’s Role in Food Safety

Eighty percent of adults believe that the federal government should select the agencies that inspect the facilities of food manufacturers. Interestingly, less than half (48 percent) said they actually trust the government’s ability to ensure the safety of food products. Also, only half believe the federal government does a good job enforcing laws that ensure our nation’s food supply is safe.

Concern Over Product Recalls Remains High

Ninety-three percent of adults are aware of instances of food recalls due to health and safety concerns in the last three years. This is up from a 2007 Harris Poll showing 79 percent were aware of food recall occurrences in the last three years.

* Food recalls have become even more of a serious concern for adults (47 percent) versus the 2007 Harris Poll data (29 percent). A total of 92 percent of Americans are at least somewhat concerned about recalls.

* When recalls on brands adults usually purchase do occur, 47 percent would temporarily purchase another brand and then purchase the recalled brand once it was safe. This is down from 55 percent in 2007.

* 27 percent of adults would avoid using any brand made by the manufacturer of a recalled product. This is up from 21 percent in 2007.

Wilson says, “The cost of a recall does not just concern lost revenue and charges for the recall but also in loss of respect for the brand or the product. In this way all members of the food chain are hurt by the actions of bad players.”

He continues, “A majority of recalls can be prevented with due diligence by all parties, including following their implemented control systems and communicating with the other segments of the food chain.”

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