Opinion: Consumers Losing Confidence In Food Safety

Dealing with the issue of food safety is much better in the abstract. I say that because I was putting the finishing touches on a six-part series on food safety — the final installment runs in this very issue — when the concept became very real for me and my family. I picked up the local newspaper one morning and saw a front page story about how several members of a nearby Boy Scout troop had become ill from eating hamburgers tainted with E. coli that had been packed at a northern California plant. Reading on, I found the hamburger was sold at two supermarket chains in the town where I live, one of them a huge discount supermarket where my wife sometimes shops. The newspaper had called the local outlet to see if they had sold the tainted beef. They, of course, denied comment. I, in turn, immediately became concerned.

I poked through our freezer, and sure enough, there was the beef. My stomach dropped. At my house, I’m Mr. Barbecue. Had Mr. Barbecue unwittingly poisoned his family? In writing the series, I’d learned that E. coli could sit in the intestines of its victims for days before manifesting itself, so my wife and kids could be at risk. I called the county Health Department to ask what to do, and the woman asked me what the newspaper had recommended. “What the newspaper had recommended? You are supposed to be the expert,” I thought. She said I needed to talk to the woman in charge of such matters, and transferred me to her voice mail. Not very satisfying. But I left a message, and the woman did indeed call back a day or two later. She eventually gave me the same information that I had tracked down online in the meantime, that the tainted meat had only been packed on a single day last year, and unless my package had that date, it was OK. I checked, and it was indeed OK. Whew, I could go back to being Mr. Barbecue with a clear conscience.

But it got me thinking. Why didn’t the spokesman for that grocery chain tell the newspaper that the bad meat was from a single day? He could have just checked out the meat company’s Web site, which is how I found the information. I talked to a buddy who does PR, and he said the guy was just doing what the lawyers tell him to do. My buddy, who by the way does PR for a big agricultural firm, says it frustrates him to no end when he gets called up by reporters, and he has a perfectly reasonable response, and has to tell them “no comment.” The story comes out and his company looks bad unnecessarily, but he has no choice.

Why Take Chances?

That lack of communication nearly led me to throw perfectly good beef away. Now I understand what was going through the minds of all those people a couple months back who unnecessarily threw pet food away. Better safe than sorry, is how the consumer views it. The spinach growers in this country found that out the hard way. In that case, of course, the FDA didn’t immediately have the date in question, so they recommended that everybody throw their spinach away. But consumers didn’t stop there.

A survey conducted earlier this year by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) shows that 38% of Americans stopped buying certain foods in the past 12 months, up 9%. The most oft-mentioned products were spinach (71%), lettuce (16%), and bagged salad (9%). See a trend there? If there should be a food safety scare involving a certain fruit, consumers aren’t just going to stop buying that fruit, they’re going to stop buying lots of fruit.

The spinach/E. coli scare has had a lasting impact. The number of consumers who are at least somewhat confident in the safety of supermarket food has declined from 82% last year to 66%. That’s the lowest since 1989. According to FMI, the 1989 figure was so low because that survey was taken right after the Alar scare in apples. And that was baseless. Can you imagine if we have a real food safety problem in our industry? Please be careful. Trust me, things look a lot different at the other end of the food chain.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Vegetables Stories

VegetablesSakata Seed America Shows Heart Through Charitable Program
September 19, 2014
Company’s corporate giving mission bears fruit for the American Heart Association. Read More
FruitsFlorida Fruit & Vegetable Association Seeks Fresh Approach To Marketing
September 17, 2014
New partnership bolsters Fresh From Florida program. Read More
CitrusFDA Announces Cooperative Agreement To Implement National Produce Safety Rule
September 17, 2014
Agreement will provide information to help plan and carry out the produce safety rule in partnership with state regulatory agencies. Read More
Cucurbits14 Stand-Out Melon Varieties [Slideshow]
September 15, 2014
Browse the slideshow below for information on these exceptional melon varieties from the nation’s leading seed breeders and distributors. Read More
Grower Achievement AwardView Highlights From The 2014 United Fresh Washington Public Policy Conference [slideshow]
September 15, 2014
Browse this slideshow to view photos from the 2014 United Fresh Washington Public Policy Conference, including pictures of this year’s Grower Read More
Crop ProtectionNimitz Nematicide Receives EPA Approval
September 12, 2014
New product from Adama has a unique mode of action and is approved for use on a variety of vegetables. Read More
Crop ProtectionGiant Snail Threat Spreading In South Florida
September 10, 2014
Dangerous invasive pests found well outside Miami-area hot zone. Read More

The Latest

VegetablesSakata Seed America Shows Heart Through Charitable Prog…
September 19, 2014
Company’s corporate giving mission bears fruit for the American Heart Association. Read More
FruitsFlorida Fruit & Vegetable Association Seeks Fresh A…
September 17, 2014
New partnership bolsters Fresh From Florida program. Read More
CitrusFDA Announces Cooperative Agreement To Implement Nation…
September 17, 2014
Agreement will provide information to help plan and carry out the produce safety rule in partnership with state regulatory agencies. Read More
Crop ProtectionBagrada Bug On The Move In California
September 16, 2014
Find out more on management tactics and what counties are impacted by this invasive pest. Read More
Crop ProtectionGiant Snail Threat Spreading In South Florida
September 10, 2014
Dangerous invasive pests found well outside Miami-area hot zone. Read More
EquipmentJohn Deere Announces Changes To 5M Utility Tractors
September 9, 2014
Enhanced operator experience, serviceability, performance, and comfort, are among the new features. Read More
Crop ProtectionStockton’s Timorex Gold Biofungicide Receives EPA Reg…
September 9, 2014
This broad spectrum fungicide can be used in rotation or in a tank mix. Read More
CitrusFMC Acquires Cheminova
September 9, 2014
Transaction expected to close in early 2015. Read More
CitrusSouth Florida Wet Season Receives Slight Respite
September 9, 2014
Reports indicate most areas around the region received below average rainfall during August. Read More
TomatoesDrought Update For Fresh And Processed Tomatoes
September 8, 2014
The 2014 production numbers are expected to be the highest on record; however, growers are facing a few challenges from the drought that have some shifting acreage to areas with more water. Read More
VegetablesFour Must-See Vegetable Varieties From Rispens Seeds [S…
September 8, 2014
Browse the slideshow below for information on four varieties from Rispens Seeds featuring strong disease resistance packages, high-quality, attractive fruit, Read More
FruitsImproving Water Management Techniques
September 8, 2014
Improving groundwater management and managing salinity are a couple tactics growers can use to cope with the effects of the drought. Read More
Farm ManagementStay One Step Ahead Of Legal Challenges
September 8, 2014
Don’t get caught up in easily prevented legal troubles from a lack of planning. Read More
FruitsItalian Machinery Show Intends To Strengthen Ties With…
September 8, 2014
EIMA International will feature more than 1,800 exhibitors from 40 countries, approximately 200,000 visitors, and 40 official foreign delegations. Read More
Farm ManagementWilbur-Ellis’ Updates AgVerdict Software After Grower…
September 8, 2014
Design made with growers in mind, allows on-the-go data entry. Read More
Crop ProtectionBayer Opens Worldwide Biologics R&D Center In Calif…
September 5, 2014
$80 million facility will also be used to develop vegetable seed. Read More
Food SafetyBe Ready For Food Safety Rules
September 5, 2014
Stay one step ahead of the food safety rules but anticipating the changes you will need to make on your farm. Read More
Crop ProtectionMost Fresh California Produce Has Little/No Detectable …
September 4, 2014
State Department of Pesticide Regulation finds that 95% of produce was in compliance. Read More