CHICAGO -- Consumers have a high level of confidence that their food supply is safe from pathogens, according to presenters at the Food Marketing Institute's Speaks presentation here last week.
"We were delighted when consumers told us their confidence in the food supply was actually higher this year than it was two years ago, and reached the same level of four years ago," said Michael Sansolo, senior vice president, FMI. "Consumers see the food supply as being very safe. This shows clearly that we've taken their concerns very seriously, and they are rewarding us with their confidence."
According to the FMI's Trends consumer survey data, 81% of consumers are confident in the food supply, vs. 74% in 2000 and 81% in 1998.
Consumers' confidence is increasing despite the extraordinary amount of publicity that the issue has generated, Sansolo said.
"This is a year that food safety has been in the headlines virtually nonstop," he said. "We went from foot-and-mouth and mad cow disease to after Sept. 11, with stores being hit by reports of anthrax in the aisles."
Joanne Gage, senior director, consumer affairs and marketing, Winn-Dixie, who worked at Price Chopper during last year's anthrax attacks, said the impact of the anthrax mailings was difficult for supermarkets to cope with.
"People were calling because they started seeing white powder on everything from turkey to magazines to a box of tissues," she said. "It was really challenging for us because we had to take all of those calls seriously."
She agreed that consumers have a high level of confidence in supermarkets when it comes to everyday food safety, however.
"As far as the science of food safety, consumers don't have a clue," she said. "They don't take responsibility for it. They have mad cow and E. coli and salmonella are all mixed up in their minds."
She said the main thing supermarkets look for in the stores is that food handlers are wearing gloves.