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Food Safety Outbreaks Don't Sway Consumer Concern

CHICAGO -- Despite frequent food safety outbreaks and recalls, concern about the safety of the U.S. food supply remains relatively consistent, with temporary spikes when news of an outbreak occurs, according to market research firm The NPD Group.

NPD's Food Safety Monitor, which tracks consumer awareness and concern related to food safety issues, revealed that for the period of January through August, 60 percent of U.S. consumers, on average, were somewhat or slightly concerned about the safety of the U.S. food supply, while 25 percent were extremely or very concerned, and 15 percent were not concerned at all.

This year's food safety concern levels are on par with previous years, NPD's research found.

Conducted on a bi-weekly basis, the Food Safety Monitor shows percentage fluctuations in terms of consumers who are or are not concerned about the safety of the U.S. food supply, based upon whether or not there is a food safety issue in the news at that time. The annual averages remain relatively consistent.

"The impact of a food recall on consumer attitudes and perceptions often depends on the amount of news coverage received, or the severity of the situation in terms of numbers sickened or dead as a result," said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for NPD. "Recalls, unfortunately, have become more commonplace, but consumers are creatures of habit. It takes a lot for us to change what we eat."

According to The NPD Group, there are spikes in consumer concern followed by a leveling off with specific food safety outbreaks. For example, in July and August, there were outbreaks and product recalls involving listeria contamination. Awareness of and concern about listeria peaked during the time that the outbreaks were widely reported and then leveled off when the news subsided.

NPD's Food Safety Monitor surveys approximately 500 U.S. adults and tracks consumer awareness and concern about food safety issues, including salmonella, E. coli, mad cow disease, foot and mouth disease, acrylamide, trans fats, mercury in fish, avian bird flu and listeria.

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