Foodborne illnesses and food imports among top concerns for Australians

According to a survey conducted in Australia, imported foods and foodborne illnesses are among the top concerns of consumers.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has commissioned the University of Adelaide to gain insight into consumer responses to food safety incidents and outbreaks.

Food Insights Questionnaire (FoodIQ) data from September 2018 to December 2020 was analyzed for the recently released report. This is a recurring online survey of a nationally representative sample of at least 1,000 food shoppers, conducted by the university.

Consumers most often identified imported foods, foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria or contaminants, and pesticides or pesticide residues as the top issues from a list of 12 options. Other topics included carcinogens or carcinogenic chemicals in food, hormones and antibiotics used to produce farm animal products, and foreign material contamination of food.

Less than 10% of consumers said they changed their behavior because of a major food safety issue. Eight percent said they changed their eating habits due to concerns about imported foods. Only a few said they made changes due to other safety concerns, including foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria, food contamination by foreign objects, pesticide residues, carcinogens in food and food additives.

Food production topics
Consumers reported a relatively high level of confidence in the safety of the Australian food supply with an average score of 5.5 out of 7. People considered price, taste, health and nutrition, country of origin and food safety as the most important when grocery shopping.

On a scale of 0 (not willing to take any risks) to 10 (completely willing to take risks), Australians were somewhat prepared to take risks when it comes to food safety, as evidenced by an average rating of 4.

Using a seven-point scale, Australians rated their level of agreement or disagreement with various statements about food production and consumption. On average, respondents mostly agreed that they were satisfied with the quality and safety of food produced in Canada. They also preferred foods made in the country or in their state or territory.

People were also asked to rate their level of concern about problems related to food production. Respondents expressed the most concerns about the use of pesticides.

Other issues of some concern to them included the country of origin of food products, the use of hormones and antibiotics, food-borne contaminants, the use of glyphosate in agriculture and the production food and animal welfare. Consumers have also expressed some concern about genetically modified organisms and the use of biotechnology.

Reminder of a reminder
The proportion of respondents recalling a food product recall in the past 24 months ranged from 44% to 70%. Strawberries, frozen berries, melon (cantaloupe), frozen vegetables, eggs and milk were the five products people remembered being recalled most often.

The adulteration of strawberries with needles made headlines in 2018, there was a recall of frozen berries in 2017 and two of melons in August 2016 and February 2018. Between 2015 and 2019 there were 17 recalls in trade and consumer level for eggs, five recalls of frozen vegetables and 14 recalls of cow’s milk between 2016 and 2020.

Respondents who changed their behavior most often temporarily stopped buying the recalled item, but some stopped buying it permanently while others paid more attention to the labels.

Consumers trusted the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), doctors/health professionals and the Food Safety Information Council the most. Other sources that had a relatively high level of trust included farmers, government agencies like FSANZ, consumer groups like Choice, dietitians and nutritionists, and animal welfare organizations.

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About Alma Ackerman

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