About two-thirds (63 percent) of all U.S. adults are extremely or very concerned with the cleanliness of restaurants where they eat—approximately 140 million adults. Many are also concerned with the safety of food purchased in the grocery store (52 percent), the quality of drinking water in their community (51 percent), the healthiness of ingredients in the foods they eat (44 percent) and the origin of the fresh produce they consume (41 percent).
In all of these cases, women are more likely to be concerned than men, and adults ages 35 and over are more likely to be concerned than those ages 18 to 34, according to a survey conducted online by Harris Interactive in the wake of a multi-state E. coli outbreak due to contamination of bagged spinach, which infected 199 people from 26 states and caused three deaths.
Nearly all adults (96 percent) in our survey say they are at least somewhat familiar with the outbreak, with one-third (35 percent) extremely or very familiar with it. Among those who are at least somewhat familiar, the grocery item most associated with the E. coli outbreak is prepackaged, fresh spinach sold in a bag or plastic box (83 percent). Other items mentioned include fresh spinach sold loose (40 percent), prepackaged fresh lettuce (30 percent) and fresh lettuce sold by the head (19 percent).
“Food safety has been a growing concern for the past ten years and it continues to be an important issue to consumers,” says Parker Hurlburt, vice president of Harris Interactive’s consumer packaged goods research practice. “Although the E. coli outbreak was due only to affected spinach, many consumers took a ‘better safe than sorry’ attitude and stopped eating lettuce as well. We also have seen this concern translate itself into increased interest in organic and locally grown foods.”
About two-in-five of those who associated a particular item with the outbreak say they stopped eating the item (prepackaged spinach 42 percent, prepackaged lettuce 41 percent, lettuce sold by the head 41 percent, and loose spinach 39 percent).