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NEW YORK – A recent study shows only 60 percent of Americans look for recalled food in their homes and only 22 percent pay serious attention to recall notices, according to the Rutgers University Food Policy Institute. The study, which talked to a random sample of adults in all 50 states, was designed to provide insight into consumers' current responses to food recalls, according to a report this week in the Food, Nutrition and Science Newsletter from The Lempert Report.
While most Americans do view the food recall process as an important method for saving lives and protecting public health, 22 percent believe that most food recalls aren't serious enough to pay attention to. In fact, one-third of consumers think the government often overreacts to recalls. Forty percent of consumers think the foods they purchase are less likely to be recalled than those purchased by others, according to the newsletter, which is sponsored by the National Grocers Association, and written by Phil Lempert, the "Supermarket Guru."
According to the newsletter, Food Policy Institute Director Dr. William Hallman said people believe that while food recalls are important, they don’t necessarily apply to them. Another concern is that most people don't think that food recalls happen all that often. The problem, he said, is that if people think important food recalls only happen rarely, they are less likely to believe in their chances of getting foodborne illness, and less likely to take the needed precautions.
"The only way to tackle misconceptions is to provide better education and more consistent messages," said Hallman. "Particularly vulnerable are the very young, the very old, and those who are immunocompromised. However, we are all at risk for illness."
The recent pistachio and peanut butter recalls further highlight the importance of consumer compliance with recall procedures, but motivating consumers to pay attention is no easy task, Hallman said. About half of Americans say food recalls have no impact on their lives; few (17 percent) think they have recalled food in their homes. Only 10 percent said they have ever found a recalled food product; 12 percent reported actually having eaten a recalled food.
Of the 135 respondents who reported having eaten a recalled food, the majority (57 percent) reported they didn’t believe that eating the recalled food would hurt them. An alarming 10 percent said that they cooked or washed the recalled product, rather than dispose of it, to render it safe to eat.
The CDC estimates that 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths occur annually in the United States due to accidental contamination by foodborne pathogens, suggesting nearly every American has had some experience with foodborne illness. And yet, most Americans tend to underestimate their overall experiences with foodborne illnesses—only 18 percent of respondents in this study reported that they had ever become sick from eating contaminated food.
For recalls to be more effective, Hallman recommended that retailers advise their customers to pay attention to recalls, without frightening them into unnecessarily throwing away safe products. They should also communicate with their customers about recalls through their loyalty card programs and direct consumers to www.recalls.gov, a central, reliable Web site with information about food recalls.
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