Less than 20% of consumers trust the safety of food

June 29, 2009

A new IBM study reveals that less than 20% of consumers trust food companies to develop and sell food products that are safe and healthy for themselves and their families. The study also shows that 60% of consumers are concerned about the safety of food they purchase. The survey of 1,000 consumers in the 10 largest cities in the U.S. shows that consumers are increasingly wary of the safety of food purchased at grocery stores, and their confidence in—and trust of—food retailers, manufacturers, and grocers is declining.

Recalls: Eighty-three 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. Nearly half of survey respondents (46%) named peanut butter as the most recognizable recall, while spinach came in a distant second, with 15% awareness nearly two years after the incident. Consumers are proving to be extra cautious in purchasing food products after a recall. In fact, 49% of the respondents would be less likely to purchase a food product again of it was recalled due to contamination. And 63% of respondents confirmed they would not buy the food until the source of contamination had been found and addressed. The rising concern of food safety has led to consumers changing their grocery shopping behavior, with 45% looking for fresher foods and 43% looking for better quality foods.

In addition, the survey found that consumer appetite for information about food products has increased, with 77% wanting more information about the content of the food products they purchase and 76% wanting more information about its origin. The survey also found that consumers are spending more time poring over food labels to know which ingredients were used, questioning supermarkets and product manufactures about product detail, paying closer attention to expiration dates, and doing more in depth background checks on specific food brands and their origin.

An estimated 76 million people in the U.S. get sick every year with foodborne illness and 5,000 die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food safety is top of mind for governments, retailers, manufacturers, and consumers alike, and in fact, President Obama’s proposed budget includes $1 billion for the FDA to spend on improving food safety. More than 600 bills addressing food safety have been introduced in state legislatures since Jan. 2009.