Seven in Ten Americans Reacted to a Food Scare in the Past Year

by Lydia Saad

Still, underlying confidence in food safety remains high

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- In one sense, food recalls indicate the surveillance system for the nation's food supply is working: that U.S. food inspection agencies are detecting contaminants at the source (as with the recent advisory on Chinese seafood); health monitoring agencies are identifying and tracking patterns in foodborne illnesses (as with last year's outbreak of salmonella from packaged spinach); and companies are acting quickly to get suspected products off of store shelves (as with a recent recall of Castleberry's Food Company's canned meats and chili). At the same time, the number of high-profile product recalls issued over the past year might be expected to alarm consumers about the safety of the food they buy.

Gallup monitors public attitudes about food safety with a series of questions included on its annual Consumption Habits survey, updated each July. This year's survey, conducted July 12-15 (just prior to the Castleberry's Food Company advisory), includes a new question asking the public about their personal experience with food scares.

Most commonly, a majority of Americans -- 62% -- say they have avoided buying certain brands or types of food within the past year as a direct result of a government food safety advisory or product recall. Four in ten say such advisories or recalls have compelled them to discard food or return it to the store and roughly one-quarter say they worried that something they ate may have been contaminated. Overall, 71% of Americans report having one or more of these experiences in the past year.

Trend questions updated on this year's Consumption Habits survey suggest Americans have not reached a tipping point with food safety concerns. Most Americans continue to express confidence in the safety of food in the nation's grocery stores and restaurants, as well as in the federal agencies responsible for ensuring the safety of the food supply. However, at present, that confidence tends to be on the low side of the range Gallup has seen over the past decade.

Confidence Trends

The percentage of Americans saying they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the federal government to ensure the safety of the food supply is currently 71%, significantly lower than the previous low of 76% recorded a year ago as well as the high point of 85% in 2004.

 

At 82%, current confidence in the food available at grocery stores is on the low end of the range of 80% to 89% found since 1999. It was similarly low, at 80% and 81% from 1999-2001, but higher from July 2001 through December 2006.

At 73%, current confidence in the safety of restaurant food is in the middle of the range of 68% to 77% seen for this measure since 1999.

Listening With One Ear

Given Americans' self-reported attention to food-related news, Americans neither take the safety of the nation's food supply for granted, nor are they losing sleep over it. Nearly two-thirds of the public indicates paying at least a fair amount of attention to "the food warnings and nutritional recommendations" in the news, but this includes only 28% paying "a lot" of attention.

Public attention to food warnings and recommendations has fluctuated over the years, possibly a reflection of the timing of the polls relative food-related issues in the news. Current attention is a bit lower than a year ago and higher than two years ago, but similar to where it was in 1989. 

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 12-15, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

36. How much attention do you pay to the food warnings and nutritional recommendations you hear or read about? Do you pay -- a lot of attention, a fair amount, some, not too much, or none at all?

           


A
lot

Fair
amount


Some

Not
too
much

None
at
all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

%

2006 Jul 12-15

28

37

19

10

6

--

 

 

 

 

 

 

2006 Dec 8-10 ^

33

38

15

9

4

--

2003 Jul 7-9

23

33

23

12

9

*

2002 Jul 9-11

22

33

21

16

8

*

1989 Sep 12-15

26

36

16

13

9

*

* Less than 0.5%
^ Asked of a half sample.

Q.41-42 ROTATED

41. Do you feel confident or not confident that the food available at most grocery stores is safe to eat?

           

Confident

Not
confident

No
opinion

%

%

%

2007 Jul 12-15

82

17

1

 

 

 

2006 Dec 8-10

87

12

1

2006 Jul 6-9

84

15

1

2005 Jul 7-10

88

12

*

2004 Jul 8-11

87

12

1

2002 Jul 9-11

85

13

2

2001 Jul 19-22

89

10

1

2001 Mar 26-28

81

18

1

2000 Mar 30-Apr 2

80

18

2

1999 Sep 23-26

80

19

1

* Less than 0.5%

 

42. Do you feel confident or not confident that the food served at most restaurants is safe to eat?

           

Confident

Not
confident

No
opinion

%

%

%

2007 Jul 12-15

73

25

2

 

 

 

2006 Dec 8-10

74

24

2

2006 Jul 6-9

74

24

2

2005 Jul 7-10

76

23

1

2001 Jul 19-22

77

21

2

2001 Mar 26-28

68

29

3

1999 Sep 23-26

69

30

1

 

43. How much confidence do you have in the federal government to ensure the safety of the food supply in the U.S., would you say you have -- a great deal, a fair amount, not much, or none at all?

           

A great
deal

A fair
amount


Not
much


None
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Jul 12-15

18

53

21

8

*

 

 

 

 

 

2006 Dec 8-10

22

60

15

3

*

2006 Jul 6-9

22

54

18

6

*

2005 Jul 7-10

19

61

15

5

*

2004 Jul 8-11

31

54

11

3

1

2002 Jul 9-11

19

58

16

6

1

2001 Jul 19-22

21

61

13

4

1

2001 Mar 26-28

25

54

17

3

1

1999 Sep 23-26

15

61

19

5

*

* Less than 0.5%

 

44. Have you, personally, done any of the following in the past year as a direct result of a government food safety advisory or a product recall, or not? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

A. Thrown out food or returned it to the store

           

Yes,
have

No,
have not

No
opinion

2007 Jul 12-15

40%

60

*

* Less than 0.5%

           

B. Avoided buying certain brands or types of food

           

Yes,
have

No,
have not

No
opinion

2007 Jul 12-15

62%

37

*

* Less than 0.5%

           

C. Worried you ate something that may have been contaminated

Yes,
have

No,
have not

No
opinion

2007 Jul 12-15

26%

74

*

* Less than 0.5%

Get Articles in Related Topics:


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/28264/Seven-Ten-Americans-Reacted-Food-Scare-Past-Year.aspx
Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030