Survey says… consumers more concerned with chemicals than foodborne illness

Unhealthy Food CautionWhen it comes to food safety concerns, American consumers are most worried about chemicals in food, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2015 Food and Health Survey. Previously, consumers’ concerns were centered on foodborne illness.

As explained in a recent article, to consumers, the term “chemicals” carries a negative connotation—generally perceived as food ingredients that are man-made. While 36% of those surveyed responded that chemicals and pesticides in food was their major concern, 34% responded by saying foodborne illness is their major concern.

Although these results are very close, many scientists argue that the risks posed by pesticides in food is not nearly as big an issue as the risk of foodborne illness.

“The risks posed by pesticides in food pale in comparison to the risks from foodborne illness,” Carl Winter, extension food toxicologist and vice chair of the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California at Davis, said in the article.

“Our typical exposure to pesticide residues is at levels more than 1 million times lower than levels that, when given to laboratory animals on a daily basis throughout their lifetimes, do not produce any noticeable effects in the animals. This strongly contrasts with the risk of foodborne illness, where the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the incidence at 48 million cases per year in the U.S.”

As stated in the article, the problem is that what consumers believe are risks versus what risks actually do exist, are two different things.

“The responses to the ‘most important food safety issue’ question illustrate the difference between perceived risk and actual risk,” Anthony Flood, senior director of food safety for the IFIC Foundation, said in the article.

“Some consumers believe ‘chemcials in food’ potentially cause greater harm when, in reality, these pose less risk to their health than the bacteria that cause foodborne illness—especially when they may be including safe and approved food ingredients in their definition of ‘chemicals in food.”

The IFIC’s survey findings are quite a contrast when compared to results from the UK Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) own survey results published just three months ago. The FSA revealed that consumer concerns in the UK were primarily centered around:

  1. The amount of sugar in food
  2. The amount of salt in food
  3. Food hygiene when eating out
  4. The use of additives in food products

The article states it is important to remember that each of these surveys had its own set of methodologies and participants, and may not tell the entire story. Regardless, experts still warn about the dangers of foodborne illness and suggest that consumers take all the necessary precautions to avoid contracting a foodborne illness.

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