Chemicals in food bigger concern for consumers than foodborne illness: survey

Dive Brief:

  • Consumers have shifted their food safety focus from foodborne illness to chemicals in food, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation's 2015 Food and Health Survey.
  • The numbers were still close: 36% of consumers chose chemicals in food, such as pesticide residue, as their top concern while 34% selected foodborne illness from bacteria. Last year, 23% of consumers chose chemicals in food as their No. 1 food safety priority.
  • However, IFIC warns that risks from foodborne illness are a much greater health concern, and risks from chemicals in food "pale in comparison," said Carl Winter, extension food toxicologist and vice chair of the department of food science and technology at the University of California — Davis, in a news release.

Dive Insight:

"Our typical exposure to pesticide residues is at levels more than 1 million times lower than levels that, when given to laboratory animals on a daily basis throughout their lifetimes, do not produce any noticeable effects in the animals.  This strongly contrasts with the risk of foodborne illness, where the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the incidence at 48 million cases per year in the U.S," said Winter.

Despite risk statistics, this survey demonstrates the chemical aversion consumers are demonstrating to food and beverage companies today. "Chemicals in food" from the survey were wide-ranging and even included chemicals that are approved and considered safe by regulatory agencies. However, chemicals, particularly man-made chemicals, still bear a strong negative connotation among many consumers today.

Food and beverage companies have begun to react to this fear of chemicals in a big way. General Mills and Kellogg vowed to remove artificial colors and flavors from their cereals, and General Mills also recently announced that it would remove those chemicals from its fruit snacks as well. Nestle pledged to remove artificial flavors from its frozen pizzas.

Recent research found that nearly two-thirds of consumers are now checking the ingredients labels on the foods and beverages they buy.

In June, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other health groups petitioned the FDA to remove eight synthetic flavors from the "generally recognized as safe" list for being known carcinogens.

Filed Under: Food Safety
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