Is it a growing paranoia inside me or mistrust grounded on fact? Where did it begin, this mounting awareness that what I buy at my local grocery store may not be as good quality as I want to believe it is? From the day a few years ago that I opened a can of tuna fish and found a fish eyeball inside, to the increasing number of public notices on food recalls issued, I have been faced with the growing urgency to increase my awareness of food safety issues and have begun to wonder how many others feel as I do. A little research showed that the U.S. population is concerned about the safety of their food. A study last month by Thomson Reuters found that 42% of people are “very concerned” about food safety. (https://faunalytics.org/food-recalls-awareness-and-consumer-attitudes)
Good to know that I am not alone on this issue but are my concerns grounded on fact? Are food recalls growing in number or are we just more aware of them due to the quick speed that today’s news travels, especially through social media?
It was easy to locate the not so reassuring information that food recalls happen all the time, and the vast majority of them don’t make headlines. Recent examples include Kraft taking 6.5 million boxes of macaroni and cheese off grocery shelves after metal was discovered in a box, Breyers and Pepperidge Farm recalling their products over unlisted allergens, 4,000 pounds of beef recalled over a mad cow disease scare, Hot Pockets pulling products that may have included “diseased and unsound” meat. (https://www.thedailymeal.com/eat/10-biggest-food-recalls-american-history)
And then there are the BIG recalls: Half a billion eggs recalled for salmonella, 19 million pounds of ground beef made from contaminated beef trim(whatever that is!), 35 million pounds of deli meat and hot dogs sickening people with listeria …and on and on it goes.
And so I wonder: Have other consumers changed their food buying habits as the result of recalls and food safety concerns as I have?
Bryan Salvage of MeatPoultry.com found that not only do food safety concerns change shopping habits, but that consumers want product labeling to ensure safety and are willing to pay for this added security:
I know that I can be counted in this 30%! Over the past few years I have turned to the reading of food labels as a necessary yet overwhelming pastime as I grocery shop. (I now find it to be enjoyable reading…how strange!) Long gone are the days of running into a market, grabbing what I think I need (generally based on named products used before for a recipe) and rushing home to fix the family meal. I now read labels not only for content but also origin of the food which was never a consideration years ago. I am increasingly hesitant to purchase food that is labeled “Distributed and sold exclusively for ____________” with no indication as to what country the product inside comes from.
Purchasing beef and chicken from a grocery has become problematic for me also. Not only is the origin of the animal becoming increasingly significant but an increased awareness of the methods used in raising these food sources is adding to my hesitation in buying grocery store offerings. What is a consumer to do when the food safety of our beef and chicken and pork products begins to become a concern? Place greater confidence in the current USDA grading and labeling of our meat and poultry and continue purchasing as before? Buy only products labeled ‘free range” and hope that it is better and safer for you? Turn vegan and avoid this quandary all together? Avoid the grocery stores and butcher shops and purchase meat and chicken directly from the source? YES, that is going to be the next step for this consumer! After having a terrific experience purchasing Piedmontese beef direct from a Michigan company and chicken direct from a northern Michigan farmer through our local farmers market I have come across a way to increase my confidence in the food I eat and serve to others. What better way to help the local and state economy than to buy food directly from the source? To accomplish this goal I have recently taken to read the local classified ads that advertise for sale local beef and poultry, as well as eggs. This has become a new learning experience for me, one that I am gaining not only knowledge of local and state businesses but one that allows me to speak directly with food producers. I can investigate for myself their food safety systems, their processing methods and their overall attention to food safety. This knowledge is hard to garner from the big food producers!
Fruits and vegetables in northern Michigan are plentiful during the warm weather months but in the winter I must rely on the offerings presented at the local grocery stores. But wait, do I? Winter farmers’ markets have been growing in number in northern Michigan. It is hard to imagine fresh produce in snow season but cold-loving vegetables are beginning to be offered in larger numbers at these winter markets. Broccoli, kale, leaf lettuces, arugula, mustard, spinach, Brussel sprouts, parsley, chives, radishes, Swiss chard, and carrots…an alternative to grocery produce is making its mark in my local area.
With an increased awareness of our food chain’s growing problems and the willingness to become a more informed consumer, I look forward to raising my confidence in the US food chain through the development of more informative food labels for all foods, as well as the growth of food safety training . Third Party certifications are a great way for me to build confidence in a company as it demonstrates its care for the consumer safety through a focus on food safety. While I have the acess to a great local food system, throughout our coutry there is a gap for increased food safety for those who may not…. We will take a look at these in our next blog posting because:
About 3,000 Americans die every year from food borne illnesses. More tragic than the deaths themselves is the realization that they can be prevented, usually just with safe food-handling practices. (http://www.foodinsight.org/cfsec-panel-food-safety-social-media)
Until next time…
Happy, Safe, and Healthy Eating!