Food System Summit addresses consumers’ perception of US food

October 6, 2010

Can we trust our food? This is a top-of-mind question for many Americans given the current climate of increased product recalls due to foodborne illness from bacteria. In addition, product messaging and labeling has resulted in consumers who are confused about their food and are therefore seeking cleaner labels. Given that the food industry needs to double its production of food on the same amount of land in the next 10 years, it is vital to address consumers’ concern and fear surrounding the modern food industry in order to move forward. That was the central focus of this year’s Food System Summit discussions and presentations. Organized by The Center for Food Integrity, in conjunction with the International Food Information Council and the National Council of Chain Restaurants, the 2010 Food System Summit was held Oct. 5–6 in Rosemont, Ill.

IFT President Robert Gravani, Cornell University, kicked off the first breakout session on food safety by addressing the need for effective risk communication. As he explained, with a 67% increase in food product recalls from 2007 to 2008, it is imperative to have effective messaging in place to protect food companies, but more importantly, to gain consumers’ trust and confidence by “empowering them to make informed decisions.” The three overarching rules in successful risk communication involve planning ahead, communicating responsibly, and minimizing harm. Gravani identified nine best practices to ensure effective risk communication:

  1. Respond promptly
  2. Establish a crisis communication network
  3. Accept uncertainty
  4. Form partnerships with the public
  5. Acknowledge public concern
  6. Be open and honest
  7. Be accessible to the media
  8. Communicate compassion
  9. Provide suggestions for self-protection

In addition, Gravani provided two ongoing strategies. The first is to continuously evaluate and update the crisis plan. Risk and crisis planning and assessment must keep pace with the rapidly changing environment on the local, national, and global level. Secondly, you must acknowledge and account for cultural differences. Standard communication forms, including the media, are unlikely to reach underrepresented population, such as new Americans and those enduring poverty. Also, with the increase in product recalls, the public has begun to suffer from recall fatigue and recall information only reaches about 50–60% of the public. Therefore, it is important to find out who consumers trust to receive recall messages, and use this information and new technologies and tools to reach those audiences.

Food System Summit