Not Safe at the Plate

To look a their waistlines, you wouldn’t guess Americans have any qualms about eating. But a CBS News survey finds broad concern about food safety. Asked to assign a letter grade to the safety of the nation’s food supply, fewer than half the respondents gave an A (7 percent) or a B (33 percent). Thirty-four percent handed out a C, 18 percent a D and 6 percent an F. Marketers who assume that food safety is a non-issue for consumers in this country should think again.

One question in the survey (conducted last month) asked how confident people are “that the food you buy is safe to eat.” Overall, 32 percent said they are “very confident,” with another 52 percent “somewhat” so. Fourteen percent said they’re “not too confident” and 2 percent “not at all confident.”

There were large variations on this matter among different population segments. For one, women — i.e., the people who do a disproportionate share of food shopping — were far less likely than men (24 percent vs. 40 percent) to say they’re very confident the food they buy is safe.

Income was another dividing line. Forty-two percent of respondents who make more than $100,000 a year said they are very confident the food they buy is safe, as did 39 percent of the $75,000-100,000 cohort and 35 percent of the $50,000-74,999s. But just 24 percent of the survey’s under-$30,000s and 27 percent of the $30,000-49,999 group shared that opinion. The poll didn’t indicate whether this reflects an inferior diet (more prone to safety problems) on the part of lower-income respondents or simply a greater distrust of institutions. In a breakdown by education, college graduates were the most likely to feel very confident in food safety (40 percent) and those with a high school diploma or less the least likely (26 percent).

While young adults are often regarded as chronic skeptics, the 18-29-year-olds were a bit more likely than their elders to say they’re very confident about the safety of their food. Thirty-six percent voiced that opinion, vs. 33 percent of those 65-plus and 30 percent of both the 30-44 and 45-64 age groups.