Consumers and Food Safety

For anyone in foodservice, food safety is always important. But a study out yesterday found that concerns about food safety among consumers are also high—ranking higher than even concerns about the Iraq War.

The Center for Food Integrity’s (CFI) “2008 Consumer Trust Survey” shows that concerns about food costs, energy rates, and food safety top not only most operators’ minds these days, but also the minds of consumers. Ranking No. 1 on the survey’s list of top concerns among consumers is energy costs followed by the economy and food prices, respectively.

“Clearly economics and the rising cost of everything is top-of-mind for consumers,” says CFI CEO Charlie Arnot. “And this was all done in July, before the most-recent economic circumstances.”

With consumers answering questions in the summer, at the height of the tomato scare, it’s not surprising that food safety was also a highly ranked concern. The study found that consumers believe most of the responsibility for maintaining a safe food supply falls on farmers and food processors—a fact that might come as some relief to operators who feel crucified during food borne illness outbreaks.

Operators might also be happy to hear that consumers trust companies they feel share their same values more than those with the most scientific expertise. “When we think about delivering messages that build consumer trust and confidence, what consumers want to know is, ‘Are you committed to doing the right thing,’ ” Arnot says.

Unfortunately, not everyone in the foodservice industry is trusted equally when it comes to food safety. When examining specific types of restaurants, quick-serves came in last among those trusted. At the top of the list were fine-dining restaurants then locally owned establishments followed by casual chains. “What we found here is that consumers were willing to grant trust to three types of restaurants, but they were willing to grant quick-service chain restaurants a lower degree,” Arnot says.

By Blair Chancey

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