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Release: Canadians are confused about food recalls

Posted by Faculty of Management on April 5, 2018 in Research

Dalhousie study finds that reliance on media leaves Canadians underinformed about risk related to contaminated food

A new study from Dalhousie University's Faculty of Management shows that many Canadians aren't getting enough information about food recalls. In a recent survey, most respondents underestimated the number of food recalls that happened in 2017, and many had trouble correctly recollecting recalls that have occurred.

There were 155 food recalls in 2017. "That's a lot of noise," says Sylvain Charlebois, dean of Dalhousie's Faculty of Management and lead author of the study. "We wanted to see if Canadians are getting the information they need to make informed decisions about food safety."

The report, titled, "Are Canadians experiencing food recall fatigue? A study on food recall efficiency in Canada," surveyed 1,049 people in March of 2018.

Over 60% of those surveyed underestimated the number of recalls by at least 100. Presented with three recalls that had occurred in the last two years and one that was fabricated, only 4% accurately recalled hearing about the three real ones but not the false one, indicating that consumers are confused and underinformed.

The problem could lie with where people are getting their information. Most (72%) reported learning about recalls through traditional media (television, radio and newspapers), while very few (8.3%) got information from government publications.

"Our results show that the connection between the Canadian public and the government is almost non-existent in this area," says Charlebois. "Risk communication is very poor in Canada and that needs to be addressed."

Caitlin Cunningham, a Master of Environmental Studies graduate who designed the survey and analyzed the data says that while the results show that Canadians are underinformed, it's encouraging that they are not relying solely on social media for their news. "When they do hear about food recalls, it's from reputable sources," she says. "We thought that social media might play a stronger role with younger age groups, but they were still getting their information from traditional news sources," she says. 42% of respondents heard about a recall on social media.

The report also shows that consumers are reluctant to take responsibility for food contamination. 89% of respondents said that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency should be responsible for food safety, and only 18% thought the responsibility lies with consumers themselves. At the same time, respondents overwhelmingly (89%) believe food contamination primarily occurs before it reaches their home.

That's a real disconnect, explains Cunningham. "If you look at the literature, it shows that contamination almost always comes from something that consumers do related to storage or handling. The cause of food-borne illnesses tends to lie in our home, rather than something a food company did."

In addition to Dr. Charlebois and Cunningham, the report was prepared by Simon Somogyi of the Faculty of Agriculture, Catherine Mah of the Faculty of Health and Janet Music, a Master of Public Administration graduate.

More information

Media Contacts:

Sylvain Charlebois
Dean, Faculty of Management, Dalhousie University
Sylvain.Charlebois@dal.ca
902-222-4142 (cell)

Janet Music
Executive Assistant to the Dean, Faculty of Management, Dalhousie University
deanmanagement@dal.ca 
902-494-6967