According to the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2020 Food & Health Survey, 85% of Americans have made at least some change in the food they eat or how they prepare it because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the dawn of the new decade, the 2020 edition of the survey—marking the 15th consecutive year IFIC has examined consumer perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors around food and nutrition—also looked back on trends from the past 10 years. Long-term trends indicate a growing emphasis on the healthfulness of our diets—while in the shorter term, the number of Americans who are following a diet or are concerned about environmental sustainability continues to increase.
COVID-19 has also upended almost every aspect of our daily lives, not the least of which includes our eating and food-purchasing habits. Among the 85% who have made any change, the biggest—far and away—is that 60% of Americans report cooking at home more. Respondents also say they are snacking more (32%), washing fresh produce more often (30%), and thinking about food more than usual (27%). At the same time, a separate IFIC survey in May found substantial erosion in our risk-reduction practices during and after grocery shopping, compared with April, in areas such as handwashing after trips to the grocery store, minimizing contact with surfaces, and using wipes and hand sanitizer.
“Whether these particular impacts of the pandemic are only temporary remains to be seen,” said Joseph Clayton, president and CEO of IFIC, in a press release. “But it’s hard to think of another recent event that has had such far-reaching effects, and in such a short period, on how we purchase, prepare, and consume foods and beverages.”
Worries about the coronavirus are also reflected in big changes to our views of food safety. While overall confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply is virtually unchanged (67% in 2020 versus 68% in 2019), food handling and preparation related to coronavirus risk are now at the top of the list of food safety concerns. COVID-19 was the top food safety issue for 24% of Americans, which corresponded with a decline in concern since 2019 over the top four food safety issues apart from COVID-19: foodborne illness, chemicals in food, carcinogens in food, and pesticides/pesticide residues.
Where Americans purchase and consume their food has a big influence on how concerned they are about food safety. For instance, nearly half (49%) of consumers are at least somewhat concerned about the safety of food that was prepared outside their homes, such as takeout or delivery. A similar number (46%) are concerned when they eat outside the home, such as in restaurants. Trailing behind are those who are concerned about food safety when shopping for groceries online (42%), shopping for groceries in store (36%), and preparing meals at home (30%).