Food recall announcements have become something of a news cycle staple in the past few years. From spinach and peanut butter to chicken and pet foods, there seems to be little left in the U.S. food supply that should not be viewed with at least a modicum of suspicion. As such, it's likely not surprising that strong majorities of U.S. adults say food recalls have them at least somewhat concerned (86 percent, with 58 percent somewhat concerned and 28 percent seriously concerned) and believe there should be more government oversight in regards to food safety (73 percent).
These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,236 adults surveyed online between January 15 and 20, 2014. (Full results, including data tables, available can be found here)
Food recall concerns – and calls for increased government oversight where the food supply is concerned – are stronger among some subsets of Americans than others:
- Women are more likely than men to indicate being both seriously (31 percent women, 25 percent men) and somewhat (61 percent and 55 percent, respectively) concerned; they are also more likely than their male counterparts to believe there should be more government oversight in regards to food safety (77 percent and 69 percent, respectively).
- Americans in low income households – specifically households with an annual income under $35,000 – are more likely than those in higher earning households to describe food recalls as a serious concern (36 percent in households earning <$35k, 21 percent in households earning $35k-$49,999, 26 percentin $50k+ households).
- Turning to political leanings, Democrats (32 percent) are more likely than Republicans (25 percent) to characterize food recalls as a serious concern. The call for more government oversight rings most loudly from the Democrats' camp (86 percent) and least so from Republicans (60 percent), with Independents in the middle (70 percent).
Waxing or waning?
U.S. adults are somewhat divided on the question of whether there have been more health and/or safety prompted food recalls recently than in the past few years (43%) or if their frequency has remained about the same (50 percent). Few, however, believe things have improved, with only 7 percent indicating there have been fewer than in the past few years.
- Older Americans – specifically Baby Boomers (48 percent, ages 49-67) and Matures (49 percent, ages 68+) – are more likely than their younger counterparts (38 percent Echo Boomers [ages 18-36], 37 percent Gen Xers [ages 37-48]) to believe there have been more such recalls.
- The perception that the number of recalls has risen is also stronger among women (48 percent) than men (37 percent).
When those who think there have been more food recalls lately are asked who they hold most responsible for this increase, the highest percentage by a dramatic margin place the blame on those responsible for packaging and/or processing food (50 percent), though the federal government (19 percent) and those responsible for growing and/or raising food (16 percent) don't escape this blame.
- Though overall few Americans place the lion's share of blame on consumers, for wanting food to be as cheap as possible (6 percent), it's worth noting that men (9 percent) are twice as likely as women (4 percent) to take such a position.
- Those in households with children are twice as likely as those without to point to those responsible for growing and/or raising food (24 percent with, 12 percent without).
- Matures (65 percent) are the generation most likely to blame those responsible for packaging and/or processing food, with Echo Boomers (35 percent) least likely to do so; blame among Gen Xers (57 percent) and Baby Boomers (52 percent) falls in the middle.
- Matures are less likely than any other generation to lay the blame on those responsible for growing and/or raising food (21 percent Echo Boomers, 15 percent Gen Xers, 16 percent Baby Boomers, 5 percent Matures).
Regardless of whether food recalls are on the rise or not, they have inarguably become a regular occurrence in the U.S., and six in ten Americans (61%) say that because of food safety concerns, they try to buy as much food locally as they can.
- Women (68 percent) are more likely than men (52 percent) to indicate this.
- Additionally, Matures (73 percent) are more likely than either Echo Boomers (54 percent) or Gen Xers (57 percent) to do so; Baby Boomers (64 percent) are also more likely than Echo Boomers to indicate this.
Americans are split on whether food safety issues are an inevitable side effect of low food costs, with roughly half each agreeing (52 percent) and disagreeing (48 percent) with the sentiment.
- Younger Americans (59 percent Echo Boomers, 56 percent Gen Xers) are more likely than their older counterparts (47 percent Baby Boomers, 45 percent Matures) agree with this sentiment.
Forgiveness is divine
Health or safety related food recalls can have enormous implications for a company's reputation and patronage – but not a permanent one, at least for a majority of Americans. Over half of U.S. adults (55 percent) indicate that if a brand they usually purchase is involved with a recall or safety concern issue, they'll temporarily switch to another brand and then return to the recalled brand once it's safe.
On the other hand, 16 percent say they'll purchase another brand and never purchase the recalled brand again, and an additional 17 percent would thereafter avoid any brands made by the recalled product's manufacturer.
- Baby Boomers and Matures (60 percent each) are more likely than Echo Boomers (49 percent) to say they would temporarily switch brands, while Echo Boomers are more likely than any other generation to say they would never purchase the recalled brand again (24 percent Echo Boomers, 15 percent Gen Xers, 12 percent Baby Boomers, 9 percent Matures).
- Republicans (63 percent) are more likely than either Democrats (54 percent) or Independents (55 percent) to say they would make a temporary brand switch.
This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between January 15 and 20, 2013 among 2,236 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.
All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100 percent response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.
Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.
These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.
Source: The Harris Poll