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    Perception of Foodborne Illness as Important as Reality: Harris Poll

    With food safety a top-of-mind concern for suppliers, retailers and consumers alike, a recent Harris Poll of 2,010 adults found that four in 10 (42 percent) Americans attributed, at least in part, an illness they’ve suffered over the past two years to something they ate.

    With food safety a top-of-mind concern for suppliers, retailers and consumers alike, a recent Harris Poll of 2,010 adults found that four in 10 (42 percent) Americans attributed, at least in part, an illness they’ve suffered over the past two years to something they ate.

    While some who think they’ve had a foodborne illness may have actually become sick from another, unrelated cause, the perception of food-connected illnesses is a big headache for the food industry, noted New York-based custom market research firm Harris Interactive, which conducted the poll.

    A graphic illustration of this can be found in the following findings. Seven in 10 (69 percent) of those polled who attribute an illness to a food item believe they know what the source of their illness is. As a result, one-quarter (26 percent) of those who said they became sick from something they ate have stopped eating that item entirely. Further, another 15 percent said they told family, friends and co-workers to avoid the food item as well, widening the effect of their individual experience.

    Although many people will stop eating a food item that they think made them sick, most Americans aren’t highly concerned about the safety of eating various foods. But among four types of foods (fresh, canned, frozen and other packaged foods), two in 10 adults are either extremely or very concerned that fresh foods are safe to eat (21 percent), followed by canned foods (15 percent); other packaged foods such as boxes, jars and bags (14 percent); and frozen foods (13 percent).

    When Harris Interactive included those who expressed at least some worries regarding food safety, it found that at least three-quarters to one-half of Americans have a certain amount of concern that the following foods are safe to eat: fresh foods (73 percent); other packaged foods such as boxes, jars and bags (64); canned foods (59 percent); and frozen foods (53 percent). Those who said they’re at least somewhat concerned that fresh foods are safe to eat are most worried about meats (31 percent), poultry (23 percent), fish (20 percent), vegetables (16 percent) and fruit (8 percent).

    “For our nation’s food manufacturers and suppliers these findings show the importance of ensuring food safety,” concluded Harris Interactive. “While Americans generally trust that our foods are safe to eat, the result of a food-related illness can be a severe consumer backlash in the form of a permanent de-selection and grass-roots advocacy against consumption of a food product that can extend well after a bad experience. At [their] worst, food illnesses can lead to heightened media scrutiny and more legislative and regulatory efforts at the local, state and national level.”

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