Americans Heeding Food Safety Warnings

Joseph Mercurio president and CEO of Mercurio Produce Distributors looks over bags of spinach at his wholesale company in Columbus, Ohio Friday, Sept. 15, 2006. The produce has been quarantined in the warehouse.
AP/Columbus Dispatch, Eric Albrecht
Recent food safety advisories and food recalls are on the minds of many U.S. adults, according to a new Gallup poll.

The poll of 1,001 U.S. adults was conducted from July 12-15. That's right before Castleberry's Food Company recalled some of its canned goods because of possible botulism contamination.

In the poll, participants were asked about actions they had taken in the past year as a direct result of a government food safety advisory or a product recall.

Specifically, they were asked if they had avoided buying certain brands or types of food, thrown out food or returned food to the store, or worried that they had eaten something that may have been contaminated.

They could say "yes" to more than one of those questions. For instance, if someone had worried, thrown out food, and avoided certain brands, they would have answered "yes" to all three questions.

Food Safety Reactions

Overall, 71 percent of poll participants reported taking at least one of those actions as a direct response to food safety issues in the past year.

Most participants — 62 percent — indicated that they had avoided buying certain brands or types of food. Fewer participants — 40 percent — reported throwing out or returning food to the store. More than one in four — 26 percent — said they had worried that they had eaten something contaminated.

In the poll, people rated how much confidence they had in the federal government to ensure the safety of the U.S. food supply. They could choose one of several responses, ranging from "a great deal" of confidence to "none at all."

Most participants — 53 percent — indicated that they had "a fair amount of confidence" in the government's ability to ensure U.S. food safety.
Eighteen percent expressed "a great deal" of confidence.

At the other end of the spectrum, 21 percent reported having "not much" confidence and 8 percent reported having no confidence at all in the government's ability to ensure U.S. food safety.

The 71 percent who expressed a "great deal" or "fair" amount of confidence is markedly lower than the 76 percent who voiced those views in Gallup's poll last year and down from the high point of 85 percent in Gallup's 2004 poll.

But that doesn't mean that people are fretting as they stroll through the supermarket.

Faith In Food Safety

When asked if they feel confident or not confident that the food available in most grocery stores is safe to eat, the vast majority of poll participants — 82 percent — reported feeling confident.

That's slightly lower than the 87 percent who expressed confidence in most grocery store food in Gallup's December 2006 poll.

Most participants — 37 percent — reported paying a "fair amount" of attention to food warnings. Another 28 percent indicated that they pay "a lot" of attention, 19 percent said they pay "some" attention, 10 percent said they pay "not too much" attention, and 6 percent said they pay no attention at all to food warnings.

Gallup reports that the poll's margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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