When food gets inspected and recalled, consumers may not get a clear picture of the process

July 22, 2009

Consumers usually find out pretty quickly if the meat they're planning to throw on the grill has been recalled.

What consumers may not be finding out about recalls and the inspection process, however, could make them doubt the effectiveness of what is actually a pretty good system to keep food safe, according to Kansas State University researchers.

Charles Dodd, K-State doctoral student in food science, Wamego, and Doug Powell, K-State associate professor of food safety, published a paper in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease about how one government agency communicates risk about deadly bacteria like E. coli O157 in ground beef. Publications, Web pages and recalls are all used in this risk communication.

Dodd said that although the Food Safety and Inspection Service generally does a good job of keeping meat safe, it's easy for consumers to think the opposite, particularly when a recall tells them that the food in the fridge or pantry may be dangerous. In their study, Dodd and Powell looked at what information consumers can take away from the Food Safety and Inspection Service's Web site, and suggest government agencies can more clearly communicate their role in keeping the food supply safe.

"We as Americans tend to expect more from regulatory agencies than we should, so we set ourselves up for disappointment," Dodd said. "Occasionally, regulatory agencies may create unrealistic expectations by the way they communicate with the public. The message of our paper is to say that the Food Safety and Inspection Service is doing a good job, considering the amount of resources it has. We are trying to open up dialogue about how its role could be communicated more effectively."

The researchers said that it might be helpful for consumers to know a few things about the inspection process that can lead to recalls:
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More information about food safety is available at http://barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu/

Kansas State University

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