Study Finds Many Consumers Ignore Food
of Article: http://news.rutgers.edu/medrel/news-releases/2009/04/rutgers-study-finds-20090410
April 14, 2009
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Rutgers’ Food Policy Institute (FPI)
released a study today showing that many Americans fail to check their
homes for recalled food products.
Only about 60 percent of the studied sample reported ever having looked for
recalled food in their homes, and
only 10 percent said they had ever found a recalled food product.
The study was based on a survey of 1,101 Americans interviewed by
telephone from Aug. 4 to Sept. 24, 2008. The study can be downloaded at www.foodpolicy.rutgers.edu.
Most respondents said they pay a great deal of attention to food recalls and, when they learn about
them, tell many other people. But 40 percent of these consumers think that
the foods they purchase are less
likely to be recalled than those purchased by others, appearing to believe that
food recalls just don’t apply to
Despite widespread awareness of recent foodborne illness outbreaks and a sense
that the number of food recalls is
increasing, about half of Americans say that food recalls have had no impact on their
lives, said psychologist William K. Hallman, a professor of human
ecology at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.
“Getting consumers to pay attention to news about recalls isn’t the hard
part," he said. “It’s getting them to take the step of actually
looking for recalled food products
in their homes.” Hallman is also the director of FPI and lead author of the
The Rutgers researchers also offered suggestions about how to improve
communications about food recalls.
Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed said they would like to receive
personalized information about recalls on their receipt at the grocery
store, and more than 60 percent said they also would also like to receive
such information through a letter or an e-mail.
Hallman said that personalizing communications about food recalls may be the way to overcome
the sense that the messages are meant for someone else. Providing consumers
with recall information about specific products they have purchased makes
it harder for them to ignore the advice to look for the recalled items.
But even when people find recalled food,
not all do what they are told. Approximately 12 percent reported eating a food they thought had been recalled. At
the other extreme, some consumers take a “better safe than sorry” attitude.
More than 25 percent reported that they had simply discarded food products after hearing about a
recall, potentially wasting safe, nutritious food. Many consumers also avoid
purchasing products not included in the recall but which are similar, or
are from the same manufacturer.
“Our research also points out that instructions to consumers must
be clear and comprehensible if you want them to act appropriately after a food recall,” Hallman said. He cites the
Food and Drug Administration’s
recent advice to consumers not to eat pistachios, but to hold onto them and
not throw them away as confusing to consumers.
“We found that clear, direct messages such as ‘throw the food in the garbage’ or ‘return the food to the store for a refund,’ should
motivate action. Keeping people in a holding pattern is more likely to
result in inaction, and it certainly increases the likelihood that someone
might eat the food by accident.”
The authors of the study are William K. Hallman and Cara L. Cuite,
researchers at FPI, and Neal H. Hooker, a researcher at the Ohio State
University. The study was funded by the United States Department of
Agriculture and the Grocery
An earlier report based on data from the same survey provided insight
into consumer awareness of the Salmonella Saintpaul advisory in the summer
of 2008. The report is also available at www.foodpolicy.rutgers.edu.
FPI is a research unit of Rutgers’ New Jersey
Agricultural Experiment Station. The institute addresses
important emerging food policy
issues and supports public and private decision makers who shape aspects of
the food system within which
government, agriculture, industry and the consumer interact.