Americans Well Aware of Food Safety Concerns

February 26/Medical Verdicts & Law Weekly -- More than nine in ten U.S. consumers (93%) have recently read or heard reports of food safety issues and recalls, and almost a fourth of Americans said the recalls will change their long-term food buying behavior, according to a new study of U.S. consumer attitudes about food safety published by Burson-Marsteller and Penn Schoen & Berland Associates.

The study also found that while two-thirds (68%) of Americans believe the instances of food contamination have increased in the past five years, 87% continue to somewhat or strongly agree that the U.S. has one of the strongest food safety systems in the world.

This study clearly shows a growing awareness among the American public about issues related to food safety and the need for food manufacturers and producers to be prepared to address them quickly and openly, said Bill Zucker, managing director and food issues expert at Burson-Marsteller.

While most food producers take significant measures every day to protect their food, this should serve as a wakeup call to companies: Now is the time to perform a checkup on crisis communications plans, Zucker said. The good news for food companies is that there are some key actions they can take to regain the trust of consumers should an outbreak occur. However, those actions require advanced preparation.

The study found that companies with strong brand awareness are more likely to withstand an incident of food contamination than less well-known companies. An incident of contamination at a familiar company is more likely to be judged as an isolated event than a similar incident at a lesser-known food company. The study also identified some actions companies could take to reassure the public during a contamination outbreak. For example, consumers look for information such as the brand names involved and what precautions to take if a family member becomes exposed.

Consumers have high expectations about what food companies and regulators should do to ensure their safety, said Amy Leveton, senior vice president at Penn Schoen & Berland Associates. This study shows that this is a critical time for the industry as there is a window of opportunity for companies and the industry to demonstrate that the safety of their products continues to be their top priority.

From the February 16, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition