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A Consumer Looks at Food Safety

 by Lauren Bailey

It’s a sad fact that many food safety hazards and issues are discovered by accident by a consumer. Consider any food safety scare from the last year: the Jensen Farm cantaloupes from Granada, Colorado, or the E. Coli outbreak in Europe, two huge stories that point to the overall fragility of consumer health and the hefty responsibilities of the food industry. Food safety is a chief concern among U.S. health officials precisely because it involves the entirety of the American people, and yet big mistakes seemingly occur every year.

As consumers, we largely have to assume that wholesale food producers know what they’re doing; we implicitly trust they are meeting regulation standards and that those standards are sufficient to ensure our safety. Every time we purchase of raw fruits and vegetables, when we pick up a cut of meat at the butcher’s, we do so on good faith that the food won’t harm us. But more and more often we hear stories that give us pause over our long-held faith in food. I think these popularized food safety issues are one of the greatest challenges facing the American consumer today.

Allow me to elaborate.

A New Headline Every Day

Whether it’s a story about “pink slime” in processed beef products or alarming BPA levels in canned goods, there’s always a new food scare driving the health section of popular media outlets. It’s enough to create a perpetual atmosphere of fear and distrust among many consumers. But the unfortunate truth is that these huge food scares usually revolve around a highly isolated incident—maybe a dozen people fall seriously ill over a certain contaminated good. But the backlash that follows the story will completely cripple any producer of that good, even if their facility was in no way involved in the food scare. People will understandably have a knee-jerk reaction to stories about potentially hazardous foods if they hear about it 24/7.

In the case of the Jensen Farms cantaloupe scare, with the ensuing listeria outbreak, people steered clear of anything having to do with the fruit for a good while. The infamous case of E. Coli and bagged spinach a few years ago severely hurt overall spinach sales, even though the outbreak was traced to specific producers and not to all spinach sellers. If consumers are told to be wary of a food, they’ll listen. But why is it that we get the most information about food safety from these isolated incidents, and not from the producers themselves?

More awareness in supermarkets

It seems to me that the first step to increase the average consumer’s awareness of food safety should be taken by food producers and distributors. Whenever you step into a supermarket, the only signs you’ll encounter will be those advertising the cheapest deals on goods. Or you’ll be met with a gaggle of products that exclaim their organic or whole grain components. Not enough grocery stores (nor the food items that they sell) warn consumers about the potential health risks of certain foods. The recent CDC report concerning the high sodium consumption of most Americans confirms as much, because the vast majority of us consume far more sodium than we would believe. We do this because it’s never completely clear how much sodium is in many processed or canned goods. We might be able to read the sodium levels on a product, but without a means to contextualize those numbers we won’t know what to do with them.

It’s the same case for any component of a food that’s detrimental in excess: fatty foods, sugary foods, highly processed foods all need to be much more clear about the health risks they pose to the average consumer. If the food industry doesn’t take steps to be more transparent about health benefits and risks of their products, then we can probably expect many more isolated food scares that probably could have been prevented.


This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes for accredited online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: blauren99