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Many Consumers Ignore Food Recalls In The US

April 14, 2009

Researchers from Rutgers University reported on Tuesday that only 60 percent of Americans search their homes for possibly contaminated recalled foods, Reuters reported.

Food recalls in the United States have been increasing in recent years, as Salmonella outbreaks have sickened 700 people and lead to the deaths of nine people in 2009 alone.

The U.S. is currently in the middle of an ongoing recall of pistachios contaminated with the bacteria.

However, the Rutgers research, which surveyed 1,101 Americans in August and September of last year, showed that many Americans believe they are less likely than others to have bought recalled products.

William Hallman, a professor of human ecology who led the study, said getting consumers to pay attention to news about recalls isn’t the hard part.

“It’s getting them to take the step of actually looking for recalled food products in their homes,” he said.

The report said: “Most Americans (84 percent) say that they pay close attention to news reports about food recalls and 81 percent say that when they hear about a food recall, they tell others about it.”

A reported and well-publicized 34 recalls of meat and poultry products and 65 recalls of other foods happened in 2006.

Some 80 percent of those surveyed correctly answered that recalls of food were more frequent lately than in past years. Another 40 percent who paid attention to recalls said they believed the foods they bought were less likely to be recalled than those purchased by others.

Half reported that recalls had made no significant impact on their lives.

Around 76 million people every year become ill from food, with 325,000 sick enough to go to the hospital and 5,000 dying from food poisoning, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report said that while those numbers suggests that nearly every American has experienced symptoms of a foodborne infection, only 18 percent of the respondents reported that they had ever been personally made sick as the result of eating contaminated food.

Early personalized information about recalls on store receipts were one suggestion favored by 75 percent of those surveyed, while more than 60 percent said they would also like to receive such information via letter or e-mail.

Hallman said that personalizing communications about food recalls may be the way to overcome the sense that the messages are meant for someone else. Providing consumers with recall information about specific products they have purchased makes it harder for them to ignore the advice to look for the recalled items.

Over 25 percent said they threw out food after hearing about a recall, while only 12 percent reported eating a food they thought had been recalled.

Hallman said in a statement: “Our research also points out that instructions to consumers must be clear and comprehensible if you want them to act appropriately after a food recall.”

Instructions from regulators such as the Food and Drug Administration and USDA must be very clear and simple, the study warned.

The survey, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, can be found at www.foodpolicy.rutgers.edu.

The site also hosts an earlier report based on data from the same survey that provided insight into consumer awareness of the Salmonella Saintpaul advisory in the summer of 2008.

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