Recalls? We don't need no stinkin'
of Article:† http://www.meatnews.com/news/beyond_stories.asp?ArticleID=102082
A new study reveals that Americans understand almost nothing about food
(MEATPOULTRY.com, May 01, 2009)
by Steve Bjerklie
A new study based on
consumer surveys by the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University reveals
that U.S. consumers understand very little about food recalls Ė indeed,
they understand very little about why one government agency is involved in
recalls of meat and poultry products and why another agency covers recalls
for other foods. Moreover, just 60 percent of American consumers look for
recalled foods in their homes after an announcement and a mere 22 percent
pay serious attention to recall notices, the study found. One-third believe
the government overreacts to food recalls.
Dr. William Hallman,
director of FPI, told MEATPOULTRY.com the study "means two things.
One, it shows that lots of consumers do not take food recalls seriously at
all. And two, it shows that some consumers takes recalls very
He added: "One of
the things thatís not really been picked up by media coverage so far of the
study is this: when we asked people whatís the food product most often subject
to recall, meat and poultry as a category came out number one."
Hallman said the
survey also found that most consumers think all food recalls are mandatory
when in fact theyíre voluntary, and that consumers typically underestimate
the number of food recalls that occur. Thatís understandable, he said,
because the media tends to report only the more spectacular recalls Ė this
yearís peanut-product recall and last yearís record-setting beef recall as
a result of the Hallmark-Westland animal-handling scandal, for example.
Consumers in general
donít pay closer attention to food recalls, he said, in part because many
recalls are for foods that individual consumers donít buy regularly and so
are easy to ignore. Also, consumers tend to think in terms of "whole,
self-contained products," according to Dr. Hallman, "such as a
can of soup or a package of lettuce. Something like the peanut recall,
which involved hundreds of different products, or when ground beef thatís
used in many different products and has been distributed all over the place
is recalled, thatís more difficult to grasp." Finally, thereís also
what Hallman, who is a psychologist, calls the "optimism bias."
"The idea that bad things happen to other people is fairly deeply
ingrained in the public," he said. The study found that 40 percent of
shoppers believe the foods they purchase are less likely to be subject to a
recall than foods purchased by other consumers. Half of Americans say food
recalls have no impact on their lives, the study found.
According to data from
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, foodborne contamination is
responsible for 76 million sicknesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000
deaths every year in the U.S. alone, yet the Food Policy Institute study
found that just 18 percent of respondents say that had ever become sick
from food. Just as surprisingly, 10 percent of surveyed consumers said that
when they find food subject to a recall in their kitchen cupboard or
refrigerator, they served it anyway, believing that washing and/or cooking
the product made it safe to eat.
"I think there
are some clear lessons in all this," Dr. Hallman told MEATPOULTRY.com.
"Clearly, people donít know how recalls work. But we found that people
would like more personalized information -- theyíre really open to phone
calls or emails from retailers. Some stores are already doing this Ė Costco
and Wegmanís -- using loyalty-card information." He said other
retailers, however, worry about liability and privacy issues when it comes
to mining loyalty-card data, even for food-safety reasons.
"We spend an
awful lot of money and time figuring out how to sell products to
consumers," he said, "and very little money and time on how to
get them back. In fact, our study is one of the very first on consumer attitudes
about recalls. And from a policy point of view, thereís some critical
information still missing. For example, we still receive no official advice
on how long to wait before buying a product again that had been recalled.
For consumers thatís the critical issue, yet they hear nothing from the
government and often not the food companies either."
Hallman added that
what personally worries him is that there are still many implementation
issues with recalls. "We need better traceback in recalls, especially
with ingredients that are used in a lot of products. But even so, weíre
just talking about food-safety recalls. What about purposeful
contamination? We donít have the systems in place to deal effectively with
that at all," he commented.