Public Insights: Food safety and trust

Food safety is not just a concern for Canadians, it’s an expectation.
Ashley Bruner
May 14, 2019
By Ashley Bruner
Most of us are probably guilty of eating some raw cookie dough or licking the spoon when making a cake without much thought about the food safety implications.
On the other hand, the most recent romaine lettuce recall resulted in many leafy greens being pulled from grocery stores and restaurants. Both are examples of how food quality and safety can impact the average person’s life and the food system in both little and big ways.

The quality and safety of food is a central concern to those within the food industry, but research shows that these issues are also front of mind to consumers as well. The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity’s (CCFI) annual public trust research reveals that over half of Canadians are very concerned about food safety, and this metric has remained consistent for the past three years. Food safety is not just a concern for Canadians, it’s an expectation.

Although a majority of Canadians are concerned about food safety, there are a number of key demographic groups who are significantly more concerned about this issue. Foodies (76 per cent), mothers (66 per cent) and women (61 per cent) are more likely to be very concerned about food safety overall and should be the key target audiences when communicating on this topic.

Food safety is not only a top issue of concern among Canadians, but also has an impact on public trust in Canada’s food system. According to CCFI’s public trust model, consumers feel producers and food companies/processors have the greatest responsibility when it comes to food safety.

When it comes to who is trusted on this topic, however, both groups are lacking. Under half (47 per cent) trust farmers/producers while one in five (20 per cent) trust food companies. These figures are far behind who consumers trust most – themselves (73 per cent). Government is also in this category of most responsible (17 per cent) and least trusted (21 per cent).

There is a dangerous disconnect between who Canadians hold responsible for ensuring the safety of the food they eat and who they trust to do so.

There is clearly some work to do to bridge this gap and better-earn public trust in food safety. The first step is increasing transparency. CCFI research shows that there is a strong link between demonstrating transparency when it comes to food safety and building public trust.

When seeking information on food, Canadians most often turn to online sources. Thus, this is where the food system should aim to improve transparency in food safety.

Overall, respondents rated providing third party audit information the highest (48 per cent) in terms of demonstrating transparency followed by track record (43 per cent), company practices (42 per cent) and policies (39 per cent). These are the broad categories that the food system must ensure easy to access and authentic information is available for Canadians.

The top food safety transparency-building practices revolve around food labelling; more specifically, identifying all ingredients and labelling foods that may have come into contact with allergens. Secondary practices are related to third-party audits – ensuring food safety practices are audited and making these results available online.

Before getting to those results, ensure you share your organization and/or your personal values and commitment to providing safe, healthy, affordable food.

University experts and independent dietitians are both ranked very highly for credibility on safe food topics. You can find both on bestfoodfacts.org as third-party experts answer questions about anything on your plate from nutrition to animal welfare to food safety inspections. Reference this resource on your websites and through your social media channels to help turn up the volume on credible experts’ voices.

Food safety has been a consistent concern among Canadians for the past three years, particularly among moms, foodies, and women. Canadians hold food companies and farmers most responsible for food safety but are among the least trusted, an important gap that must be addressed.

The food system must turn up the transparency when it comes to food safety and make it personal – demonstrating shared values is the most effective way to connect with Canadians and build trust.

Interested in learning more?
Download the CCFI Public Trust Research reports in (English and French) and listen to webinars about this research, food safety, transparency, millennials and more at foodintegrity.ca.


Ashley Bruner is research coordinator with the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, an organization dedicated to helping Canada’s food system earn public trust. Visit foodintegrity.ca for more information.

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