A recent survey has provided insight into how consumers and companies view food safety and what their biggest concerns are when it comes to this important topic. The Food Safety Supply Chain Vision Study included 4,957 consumers and 462 food and beverage companies from 15 countries in North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Europe. Results reveal a difference between how consumers and companies view food safety.
What the results mean for the food industry
Building trust in the industry
The survey results illustrate that concerns about food safety and distrust appear to be higher among consumers in comparison to food and beverage companies in the food industry. Industry decision-makers had a higher level of trust in companies to ensure food safety (45%) when compared to the trust that consumers have in companies to ensure food safety (18%). Trust is key to ensuring that customers come back again and again — it is evident that food industry companies need to work harder to ensure that customers trust that their food is safe to consume. This is achieved through following and adhering to food safety protocols, along with ensuring that all Food Handlers have their Food Handler Certification. Trust in food businesses to put food safety first does not come from words — it comes from actions that food businesses take to show they care and take food safety seriously.
Food-borne illness incidents
Out of those surveyed, 6 out of 10 respondents said they would never go to a restaurant again if they contracted a food-borne illness from there. This indicates the very real issue that food businesses face when dealing with a food-borne illness outbreak. Even if no one gets severely ill or dies from a food-borne illness linked to an establishment, customers do not easily forget a food safety incident and are not likely to return again. This illustrates how important food safety protocols and training are — not just for the safety of staff and customers but for the success and growth of the food business.
Top food safety concerns
Survey respondents indicated that their top food safety concerns included:
- staff hygiene
- food-borne outbreaks
- illness from contaminated food
These results show that customers are more educated than ever on food safety and what food businesses need to do to ensure food is safe to eat. In particular, customers are acutely aware of staff hygiene and what staff should not be doing when working with food. This is especially true in the current climate of COVID-19, where staff behaviour is more critical than ever in keeping customers safe. Food businesses must ensure that all staff are trained on food safety in order to comply with legal requirements, while also reassuring customers that the food business is safe to dine in. Alleviating food safety concerns while providing an exemplary dining experience helps to secure returning customers.
The survey results indicate a difference in perception between customers and industry decision-makers when it comes to food traceability and transparency. Almost 70% of industry representatives agreed that the sector is prepared to manage food traceability and transparency. In contrast, only 35% of consumers agreed, with only 13% stating they felt the industry was prepared to manage traceability and be transparent about food and its movement through the food supply chain.
These results indicate two things:
1. Customers are placing higher demands on the food industry to be responsible for the food that is produced, transported and sold. Customers’ expectations are rising and they want the food industry to be able to account for products and trace them back efficiently should a food-borne illness incident occur.
2. Despite these demands, customers are not confident in the industry decision-makers at this time. This indicates that more work needs to be done by the food industry to ensure that traceability and transparency are manageable.
Knowledge of the food industry
Knowledge about food safety is no longer just for food businesses. Customers are aware of food safety protocols and expect food businesses to adhere to them in order to run a safe food business. In the survey, more than 80% of consumers said companies have an important role to play in food safety. These same respondents also stated that food companies had an ethical responsibility to ensure the safe handling of food. As such, food businesses must rise to the occasion and ensure that the food they are producing, preparing and serving is safe for customers.
Survey results also showed that 70% of consumers said it is important to know how their food and ingredients are manufactured, prepared and handled. This result shows that a majority of customers are now taking an active role in knowing where their food comes from and how it is prepared. Customers being active and knowledgeable participants in the food industry means that food businesses must continue to do the same.
The importance of food safety training
The survey helps food industry experts and food businesses alike to understand customer perspectives and where customer concerns lie. What is evident throughout most of the results is that food safety is top of mind for customers and the general public, and that food businesses must continue to ensure food safety. This is achieved through ensuring that all Food Handlers are certified in food safety. Nationally recognized food safety training is not only essential to ensuring a safe food business, it is also a legal requirement in most provinces.
The Canadian Institute of Food Safety provides nationally recognized training through its CIFS Food Handler Certification Course.