What To Do About Consumers’ Waning Confidence in the Safety of the Food Supply

The Struggle Is Real 

With almost two decades of consumer insights stemming from the annual IFIC Food & Health Survey, I can’t stop thinking about consumers’ confidence (or lack thereof) in the safety of the food system. The chart below captures consumer responses from 2023 to 2012 when 78% of consumers said they were “somewhat/very confident in the safety of the U.S. food supply.” Fast forward to 2023, and we see that only 70% of consumers confess they are somewhat/very confident in the safety of the U.S. food supply. My biggest concern is that, in the past year, we have observed a significant drop in those that report they are very confident.  



Building Back Confidence 

Like many of my dedicated food safety colleagues, I am not ready to accept 70% confidence and ignore the 30% that are “unsure” (19%) or the 11% that are “not/not at all confident.” Confidence can be likened to the foundation of a building. It is strong and is built for the building to take shape and last for decades. Consumers who are confident in the safety of the food supply likely trust those who produce food, regulate food and sell food. Given my 28 years in food safety and risk communications, I think it’s fair to suggest that we all stop, take time to self-reflect and consider “what can I do to increase consumer confidence?”  

The Work To Be Done 

Included in this year’s IFIC Food & Health Survey, we wanted to glean insights regarding consumer confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply. As a follow-up question about consumer confidence, we included “What would increase your confidence in the safety of the food supply?” Response options included a range of concepts including “food recalls” to “more information on the package.” Interestingly, two of the top three responses selected were recommendations for the broad-based food industry and the federal government: 

  • 36% suggest understanding “how the government currently ensures that food is safe.” 
  •  35% suggest understanding “how food companies currently ensure that food is safe.” 
  • 35% want to see “stricter regulation around the safety of the food supply.” 

Where Do We Go From Here? 

This data illustrates some immediate opportunities for multiple food safety stakeholders to explore. Consumers want to “be in the know” and are interested in what the food industry and government are doing to protect them from foodborne illness or ingredients that others have deemed “unsafe.” One way of accomplishing this is by working together to elevate real stories from real people on how we’re ensuring the food supply is safe. 

As September comes to an end, we’re reflecting on all that we’ve accomplished this food safety month: from a new food safety resource on food recalls to a continuing professional education webinar on food safety, we’ve provided important resources and hosted a place for meaningful discussions, all in the pursuit of increasing consumer confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply. 

This article was written by Anthony Flood, Senior Director of Food Ingredient Communications.