Most Americans take a “not my problem” attitude when it comes to food recalls, believing the recalls don’t apply to them.

RUTGERS (US)—Most Americans take a “not my problem” attitude when it comes to food recalls, believing the recalls don’t apply to them, a new study finds.

A survey conducted by researchers at the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers shows that while most people pay attention to food recalls—and even tell others about them—they don’t think food on their own shelves is tainted.

Only about 60 percent of the studied sample reported ever having looked for recalled food in their homes, and only 10 percent said they had ever found a recalled food product.

Despite widespread awareness of recent foodborne illness outbreaks and a sense that the number of food recalls is increasing, about half of Americans say food recalls have had no impact on their lives, says psychologist William K. Hallman, a professor of human ecology at Rutgers.

“Getting consumers to pay attention to news about recalls isn’t the hard part,” says Hallman. “It’s getting them to take the step of actually looking for recalled food products in their homes.”

Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed said they would like to receive personalized information about recalls on their receipt at the grocery store, and more than 60 percent said they also would also like to receive such information through a letter or an e-mail.

Hallman says personalizing communications about food recalls may be the way to overcome the sense that the messages are meant for someone else. Providing consumers with recall information about specific products they have purchased makes it harder for them to ignore the advice to look for the recalled items.

But even when people find recalled food, not all do what they are told.

Approximately 12 percent reported eating a food they thought had been recalled. At the other extreme, some consumers take a “better safe than sorry” attitude. More than 25 percent reported that they had simply discarded food products after hearing about a recall, potentially wasting safe, nutritious food. Many consumers also avoid purchasing products not included in the recall but which are similar, or are from the same manufacturer.

“Our research also points out that instructions to consumers must be clear and comprehensible if you want them to act appropriately after a food recall,” Hallman says. He cites the Food and Drug Administration’s recent advice to consumers not to eat pistachios, but to hold onto them and not throw them away as confusing to consumers.

“We found that clear, direct messages such as ‘throw the food in the garbage’ or ‘return the food to the store for a refund,’ should motivate action. Keeping people in a holding pattern is more likely to result in inaction, and it certainly increases the likelihood that someone might eat the food by accident.”

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