Consumer survey shows changing definition of food safety

A recent survey of 5,000 consumers nationwide that asked about food buying decisions showed changing attitudes about food safety, and showed that many consumers are beginning to expect a much broader definition of food safety than ever before.

The survey shows that people still want toxin-free and pathogen-free food, but they also want more transparency from food producers and retailers about those and other food safety issues. For example, the survey summary explains that consumers want accountability and transparency through the entire food supply chain, and believe that retailers are increasingly in a position of responsibility when it comes to their food safety expectations. In fact, the survey showed 42% of shoppers surveyed are relying on retailers to assume a greater role in managing food safety. This is up from 25% in 2009, a recent article states.

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s not just the millennials or most affluent putting these evolving drivers in the mix,” said Jack Ringquist, of Deloitte Consulting LLP, one of the companies involved in conducting the survey. “Our research reveals that the preference for these attributes does not differ by generation, income level or region, but is pervasive across these groups. The U.S. consumer has changed in a fundamental and impactful way, and people’s preferences are becoming even more fragmented than the food industry may have anticipated,” he added.

Consumers’ definition of food safety is following established trends in some regards, the article explains, with 62% of the survey participants saying they expect their food to be “free from harmful elements.” But other food safety concerns, such as traceability, are also gaining ground. Consumers now link health, wellness and transparency with their definition of safety, along with other factors including:

  • Clear and accurate labeling
  • Clear information on ingredients and sourcing
  • Fewer overall ingredients
  • No “artificial” ingredients and less processing

This consumer information relates in some ways to aspects of the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which will go into effect for some companies in September of this year. Known as the most sweeping reform to the food safety laws in the past 70 years, FSMA shifts the focus from responding to contamination, to preventing it in the first place, and involves a wide variety of food companies, including those who process, pack, hold or transport food.

In addition, the report concluded that “food safety is no longer strictly defined based on near-term risks.” For example, when asked to consider the definition of a safe food or beverage as, “one that will not cause any immediate, physical harm,” 52% said they agreed with the statement, but thought more should be added to complete the definition.

Although the survey shows that consumers concerns are shifting, the report states that this does not mean consumers have discarded their concerns for common measures of safety. Instead, the article explains that their definition of food safety is only expanding. Because of this, the article predicts that companies still operating under the old definition of food safety will likely feel ongoing pressure to address consumer concerns in a way that meets this evolving definition.

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