Are Consumers Food Safety Savvy in 2018?

Food safety is often top-of-mind for consumers when making food purchases in stores and restaurants. Some of us are even proactive in our safety efforts by following news of food recalls and diligently using safe food-handling practices. But beyond those basics, our IFIC Foundation research team wanted to drill down into what people really think about the safety of our food supply.

Our food safety insights can be found in the 2018 Food and Health Survey and in our new video. You can read more about how, while the majority of consumers are confident in our food supply, there are still potential safety hazards that impact their choices.

On a positive note, this year’s survey showed that consumer confidence in the U.S. food supply grew. In 2018, 68 percent of consumers said they were confident in the food supply, up from 61 percent in 2017.

When asked about their most important food safety issue, 24 percent of consumers chose “foodborne illness from bacteria.” When ranking their top three food safety concerns, 54 percent chose “foodborne illness from bacteria,“ the same number who chose “carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals” and “chemicals in food.” Close behind, 47 percent of consumers ranked “pesticides and pesticide residues” in their top three food safety issues.

It turns out that food safety concerns can directly impact eating habits as well, with 43 percent of consumers saying they altered their actions based on one of their concerns. Of those respondents, their top reason for changing behaviors was “carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals in food.”

We also asked people what sources they consult for food-safety information: 25 percent said “a news article or headline,” 14 percent said “a friend/family member” and 13 percent said “a Government Agency (EPA, FDA and USDA).” In addition, people from different generations tended to prefer different information sources: 44 percent of those age 65 and older cited news articles or headlines, while only 16 percent of those age 18 to 34 agreed.

While the United States has one of the safest and most reliable food systems in the world, there are some instances where food can be unsafe for consumption. While the majority of us trust our food system, it is good to see that we also remain aware of potential safety risks.