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Despite Recent High-Profile Food Recalls, Many Americans Don’t Heed the Warnings, Study Says

April 15, 2009 -- Peanut and pistachio product recalls recently made big news, but research shows that many Americans don’t heed such warnings.

A new study shows that people are eating potentially contaminated food, perhaps because they haven’t heard about the recall, or they know about the recall but still don’t check their own pantries. And some people might eat food even though they know about warnings.

Of the study's participants, 59% said they have ever checked their homes for recalled food, and 10% said they have found a recalled food product. Forty percent of participants said they think the food they buy is less likely to be recalled. Twelve percent reported eating a food they knew had been recalled. The study says that most of the people who knowingly ate the recalled food "reported that they did so because they didn't believe that eating the recalled food would hurt them."

“Despite widespread awareness of recent foodborne illness outbreaks, and a sense that the number of food recalls is increasing, about half of Americans say that food recalls have had no impact on their lives,” William K. Hallman, director of the Food Policy Institute and a professor of human ecology at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, says in a written statement. “Getting consumers to pay attention to news about food recalls isn’t the hard part, but getting them to take the step of actually looking for recalled food products in their homes is a real challenge.”

The study is from the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers. Findings are based on telephone interviews of 1,101 Americans 17 and older. The interviews were conducted in August and September 2008.

Researchers suggested that creating personalized recall messages could increase the effectiveness of recalls. Nearly 75% of survey participants said they would like to receive custom recall messages on their grocery receipts. More than 60% said they would like to receive personalized recall messages through email or regular mail.

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