Consumer confidence in supermarket food-safety slips

by Bryan Salvage
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CHICAGO — Despite the fact that most Americans feel supermarket food is safe, the percentage of such consumers has decreased during the last five years, according to The NPD Group, a market research company.

In 2007 and 2008, 63% agreed with the statement that foods sold in supermarkets are safe versus 68% who agreed with the statement in 2004, according to the latest NPD Food Safety Monitor, which has tracked food-safety concerns and eating intentions in the U.S. since 2001.

"I believe that consumers’ slipping confidence in the safety of supermarket food is less about food safety and more about supermarkets expanding foodservice operations and offering more prepared, ready-to-eat foods," says Harry Balzer, NPD chief industry analyst and vice president. "More food-handling issues and concerns come into play when foods are prepared for you. Consumers are now extending the concerns they have about the safety of foods served at restaurants to supermarkets."

Consumers who feel foods served at restaurants are safe have remained, on average, between 48% and 49% since 2004, according to the NPD Food Safety Monitor. "Consumers are more concerned about the safety of food served in restaurants than food available from supermarkets, about a 15 percentage point difference," Mr. Balzer said. "However, feelings about food safety in restaurants have remained relatively unchanged whereas the number of consumers who feel confident in the safety of foods in supermarkets is declining."

Salmonella, E. coli, trans fatty acids, mercury in fish/seafood, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, high fructose corn syrup, artificial growth hormones in milk, genetically modified foods, foot-and-mouth disease, and meat/milk from cloned animals rank among Americans’ top food-safety concerns, according to the most recent NPD Food Safety Monitor.

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