Foodborne illness and food imports among top concerns for Australians

Foodborne illness and food imports among top concerns for Australians

by Sue Jones
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Imported food and foodborne illness are among the top concerns for consumers, according to a survey in Australia.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) commissioned the University of Adelaide to get insight into consumers’ responses to food safety incidents and outbreaks.

Data from the Food Insights Questionnaire (FoodIQ) during 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 frequently identified imported food, foodborne illness from bacteria or contaminants, and pesticides or pesticide residues as the most important issues from a list of 12 options. Other topics included carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals in food, hormones and antibiotics used to produce farm animal products, and contamination of food with foreign objects.

Less than 10 percent of consumers reported changing their behavior as a result of a top food safety issue. Eight percent said they changed their consumption patterns because of concerns about imported foods. Only a few reported making changes because of other safety problems, including foodborne illness from bacteria, contamination of food with foreign objects, pesticide residues, carcinogens in food and food additives.

Food production topics
Consumers reported a relatively high level of confidence in 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.

Using a scale of 0 (unwilling to take any risks) to 10 (fully prepared to take risks), Australians were somewhat prepared to take food safety risks, shown 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. Respondents, on average, somewhat agreed to agree that they were satisfied with the quality and safety of food produced domestically. They also preferred food made in the country or within their state or territory.

People were also asked to rate their degree of concern about issues related to food production. Respondents expressed the most worries about the use of pesticides.

Other issues they were somewhat concerned about included country of origin of food products, use of hormones and antibiotics, foodborne contaminants, use of glyphosate in agriculture and food production, and welfare of animals. Consumers also expressed some level of concern about genetically modified organisms and the use of biotechnology.

Recalling a recall
The share of respondents remembering a food product recall in the past 24 months ranged from 44 percent to 70 percent. Strawberries, frozen berries, rockmelon (cantaloupe), frozen vegetables, eggs and milk were the five products that people most frequently remembered being recalled.

Strawberry tampering with needles made headlines in 2018, there was one recall of frozen berries in 2017 and two of rockmelons in August 2016 and February 2018. Between 2015 and 2019 there have been 17 trade and consumer level recalls for eggs, five recalls of frozen vegetables and 14 recalls of cow’s milk between 2016 and 2020.

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

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

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