The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

How Safe do Shoppers Feel?

How Safe do Shoppers Feel?

Shoppers and Trends

April 30, 2007

How Safe do Shoppers Feel?


In a recent years, issues such as Mad Cow Disease, Avian Flu, Terrorism, E. Colicontamination,

and now even toxic substances found in pet foods, have created reason for suspicion in

shopper's minds. However, the upside of these threats to America's food supply is a rise in

awareness when it comes to food safety.

An April 2007 quick poll investigated how safe consumers really do

feel their food supply is, how they handle food safely, and who they really feel is ultimately

responsible for making sure our foods are safe. This quick poll showed that despite the last

year's events of food safety issues, which includes last fall's outbreak of E. coli in spinach,

affecting nearly 200 people in 26 states, and the latest news about tainted pet food, consumers

still appear to feel confident with the safety of our food supply.

Although zero consumers answered "100 percent safe" when asked, "How safe is our food

supply?" only 15 percent answered "not safe." And, 71 percent said "safe, but could be better"

while 14 percent said, "very safe, we will always have a small amount of food safety problems."

The second part of the quick poll suggested that shoppers are interested in food safety practices,

but could use even more education. When asked, "What are you doing to insure that the foods

you eat are as safe as possible (choose all that apply)?" 80 percent answered, "cooking all

foods properly" and 63 percent answered "washing all foods thoroughly." While it seems like a

majority are safe in handling food, only 36 percent said that they are "checking temperatures of

all appliances (refrigerators, ovens, etc.)," a crucial part to ensuring food safety. In addition, 63

percent said that they just "avoid certain foods." For example, in the 24 weeks ended February

24, 2007, packaged spinach sales were down 43.2 percent to $18.7 million compared with the

same year-ago period, according to Perishables Group powered by The Nielsen Company retail

census data of U.S. grocery chains (excluding Wal-Mart, club stores, small independent chains

and alternative formats such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats). Concurrently, packaged salad sales

with spinach had fallen by 42.4 percent to $23.2 million, and bulk spinach sales were off by 35.4

percent to $5.6 million.

What else did discover? Although organic foods have seen a rise in

popularity over the last few years, there doesn't seem to be a connection in shoppers' minds

to organics when it comes to food safety. Only five percent said that they ensure food safety

by, "buying only organic foods."

Even though many consumers seem to be taking matters of food safety seriously when it comes

to their own practices, ultimately most shoppers feel that the responsibility is ultimately in

someone else's hands. When asked, "Who do you believe has the greatest responsibility to

insure our food is as free from food safety problems as possible?" 47 percent answered "food

manufacturers" and 37 percent answered the FDA/USDA and other Governmental Agencies.

Only ten percent answered, "consumers." And it appears that very little blame is being placed

on "supermarkets/retailers," with only five percent placing the responsibility on stores.

For retailers, much of these results are good news. While very few shoppers indicate that

food safety issues are their fault, there is still an opportunity for retailers to reach out to their

shoppers by offering education on food safety practices that some consumers may simply be

unaware of. Raising this awareness may also improve the sales of those foods that consumers

feel they should stay away from.