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Survey shows awareness of peanut recall but misunderstanding

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 17-Feb-2009

The majority of Americans are aware of the peanut product recall but many are mistaken about which products are involved and few trust food safety controls, according to a Harvard survey.

The study found that while 93 percent of Americans are aware of the salmonella-related recall, one in four mistakenly believes that major national brands of peanut butter are included. Meanwhile, fewer than half of those surveyed were aware that snack products, including ice cream, baked goods, candy and snack bars are involved, although 70 percent knew that peanut butter crackers are included.

Professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health Robert Blendon said: “There's a striking level of awareness of this recall, and many people have taken action. But they're not aware of the range of products involved in the recall. People should check the Food and Drug Administration recall list routinely, since the number of products is still growing.”

Few seeking information

The results showed that few are doing so, however. Of those who were aware of the recall, just 19 percent said that they had looked for additional information and 14 percent said they had checked the FDA’s online list of recalled products. Of those who had sought further information, television and newspapers were by far their most common sources, with 82 percent looking to them for advice.

The number of recalled products now stands at over 1900, from more than 200 companies, making it one of the largest product recalls in history.

The study also showed a high level of apathy toward the recall, with 45 percent of Americans saying that it had not stopped them from eating peanut-containing foods.

Lower confidence

In addition, consumers’ level of faith in safeguards against food-borne illness has slipped, with only 37 percent of those surveyed saying they are confident in the government inspection system, compared to 47 percent a year ago. Faith in food safety measures taken by grocery stores had also fallen, from 58 percent last year to 48 percent today.

Food manufacturers are trusted least of all, however, with fewer than a third of respondents saying they have confidence in these companies to keep food safe. Last year’s survey did not include this question.

“The results suggest that all those involved in the food safety system need to act quickly to fix the problems and increase public confidence,” said Blendon.

The Harvard survey was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was carried out by International Communications Research (ICR). The researchers conducted the survey by telephone, and contacted 1,283 US adults during the week of February 4 to 8.

Full results are published on the Harvard School of Public Health website .

At least 636 people have been sickened by the salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America's Blakely, Georgia plant. The outbreak has been blamed for nine deaths so far.

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