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ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Americans are concerned about whether they food they buy in stores and eat in restaurants is safe, according to results of a survey conducted online lat month by Harris Interactive.
The study, conducted among a national sample of 2,357 U.S. adults aged 18 or over, found 52 percent of respondents were concerned with the safety of food they purchased in the grocery store, the quality of drinking water in their community (51 percent), the healthiness of ingredients in the foods they eat (44 percent), and the origin of the fresh produce they consume (41 percent).
Researchers said the sample indicated that about two-thirds, or approximately 140 million, of all Americans are extremely or very concerned with the cleanliness of restaurants.
In all of these cases, women are more likely to be concerned than men; and adults ages 35 and over are more likely to be concerned than those ages 18 to 34, the study indicated.
From mid-September to early October, just prior to the fielding of the survey, the U.S. experienced a multi-state E. coli outbreak due to contamination of bagged spinach. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of October 6, 2006, there were a reported 199 persons infected from 26 states. Three deaths in confirmed cases were associated with the outbreak.
Nearly all adults (96 percent) said they are at least somewhat familiar with the outbreak, with one-third (35 percent) extremely or very familiar with it. Among those who are at least somewhat familiar, the grocery item most associated with the E. coli outbreak is prepackaged, fresh spinach sold in a bag or plastic box (83 percent). Other items mentioned include fresh spinach sold loose (40 percent), prepackaged fresh lettuce (30 percent) and fresh lettuce sold by the head (19 percent).
"Food safety has been a growing concern for the past ten years and it continues to be an important issue to consumers," said Parker Hurlburt, Harris Interactive's v.p. of consumer packaged goods research practice. "Although the E. coli outbreak was due only to affected spinach, many consumers took a 'better safe than sorry' attitude and stopped eating lettuce as well. We also have seen this concern translate itself into increased interest in organic and locally grown foods."
About two-in-five of those who associated a particular item with the outbreak say they stopped eating the item (prepackaged spinach 42 percent, prepackaged lettuce 41 percent, lettuce sold by the head 41 percent, and loose spinach 39 percent).