University of Minnesota
College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
http://www.cfans.umn.edu
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The Food Industry Center

Continuous Food Safety Tracker Project

Introduction

Consumers in the U.S. have traditionally trusted in the safety and defense of their food supply. Historically, more than 80 percent of consumers have indicated they are confident in the safety of the food they purchase in a grocery store (Food Marketing Institute 2008). However, that percentage fell to 66 percent in 2007 with only eleven percent being completely confident. Only forty-three percent were confident in the safety of restaurant food in 2007 (Food Marketing Institute 2008, p. 71). The USDA and FDA are entrusted to protect the American public from unsafe food and the accompanying illnesses and death. In recent years, that trust appears to have eroded as the number of food recalls increased 135 percent from 240 to 565 between 2006 and 2008 (Food Industry Report, 4/14/09). Confirmed laboratory cases of foodborne illnesses reported by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) increased 46 percent between 2000 and 2008 while the number of cases per 100,000 population went up 21 percent from 33 to 40 CDC 2009. Furthermore, the potential of an intentional terrorist attack on the U.S. food supply remains a major concern.

A lack of, or decline in, confidence in the safety of food can lead to irrational actions ranging from consumer boycotts of product categories to media scares claiming to be documentaries. It can lead to social causes around food, political pressure for more food inspection and government monitoring, trade restrictions, or a demand for local foods.

Purpose of CFST

Many sporadic, one-off, surveys about consumers’ confidence in food safety are conducted, including some conducted by the principal investigators of this study (Stinson et al. 2008; Degeneffe 2009). Results from these surveys indicated that consumers who were confident in the safety of the U.S. food supply fell between July 2005 and May 2006 from 31 to 19 percent. Though informative, one-off surveys capture the sentiments of consumers at a single point in time. They rightly assume that sentiment is tied to the most recent news about a foodborne illness or recall, but there is no baseline data to determine trends in consumer confidence, or linkages between confidence and media stories. There has been seldom a good way to compare results of surveys from various investigators since each asks slightly differently questions with slightly different hypotheses in mind (Hallman et al. 2009; ASQ 2009; Degeneffe 2009).

CFST will provide continuous tracking of consumer confidence in the safety of the U.S. food system, will allow the study of trends in consumer confidence, and address the need for changes in food safety regulations or practices. In addition, testing the influence of media stories on that confidence will provide information about the power of various types of media to communicate food risks.

 

Goals & Objectives

  1. Monitor consumer confidence in the U.S. food supply chain in real time and establish a baseline database from which to conduct trend/event analysis pursuant to food defense and supply chain safety/defense events as they occur; determine concern with food defense relative to other terrorist targets.

  2. Predict how communications drive consumer attitudes and purchase intentions for food.

    1. Trend Consumer Confidence Indexes for the degree of concern consumers feel over the safety and defense of the food supply and their perception of the preparedness of the food supply chain for food safety and terrorism incidents.

    2. Estimate the effects of media coverage of said events on the indexes.

    3. Conduct media content analysis for selected food safety/defense events.

  3. Develop risk/recovery scenarios based on restoration of consumer confidence.

    1. Analyze linkages and temporal lags between the indexes and observed food purchases.

  4. Provide a system tool for policy makers and first responders to aid in gauging the seriousness of a food safety/security event, its impact on consumers’ behavior and actual food demand.

  5. Publish CSFT in popular media regularly (quarterly) as new data comes in.

  6. Analyze the economic impact of high profile recalls using commercially available syndicated data.

Method

The survey design was patterned after earlier surveys conducted by The Food Industry Center with funding from the National Center for Food protection and Defense (Stinson et al. 2008; Degeneffe 2009). The surveys asked questions about consumer’s attitudes towards terrorism in general and about food defense and food safety, after defining the difference to the respondents. These surveys, and the current continuous survey, are administered via the internet with respondents selected from a national on-line panel of more than 2 million U. S. consumers administered by TNS. Respondents are contacted by TNS and invited to a web-site to complete a survey. In return for their participation, panelists receive points which accumulate and can later be redeemed for prizes. Overall, the sample is selected so that it comprises a nationally representative cross section of consumers by geographic region, income, market size, household size, and age of respondent. Emails are sent to 175 primary grocery shoppers each week, 80 percent of whom are women. Therefore, the sample over represents women and in the first 40 weeks is skewed towards an older population with a mean age of 52.6. With the exception of more women, the sample should become fully representative over time. For more information on TNS, visit their website.

CFST Measures

Consumer CFST Indexes

The Consumer Confidence Indexes (CFSTc and CFSTp) are similar in nature to the Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS) conducted by the University of Michigan. There is nothing like it for the food system. It differs from the consumer confidence surveys already conducted in that it is a continuous survey. The study draws a sample of consumers every week and asking the same questions over time (altered only by the modules dealing with specific food product recalls), in order to determine how attitudes and purchases change as food safety and defense incidents occur and how long the changes in attitudes and purchases last. The survey also measures consumer preferences for allocating resources to food defense relative to other potential terrorist targets.

CFSTc and CFSTp were each derived through a factor analysis of key survey measures such that each is independent from the other. Both use the same formula, which is as follows:

CFST Equation

Where:

j = C denotes the index measuring consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply.

j = P denotes the index measuring consumers’ attitudes regarding how prepared the food system is for food safety/defense incidents.

F = the percent of respondents giving favorable responses (4, 5 or 6 on the 6 point Likert scale) minus U = the percent of respondents giving unfavorable responses (1, 2 or 3 on the 6 point Likert scale) to question i through question n.


Consumer Confidence – CFSTc Survey Questions

Four survey questions, each using Likert 6 point rating scales are used in calculating CFSTc:

  1. How concerned are you about the safety of the food that you buy? (1= Not at all concerned to 6=Extremely concerned)
  2. How concerned are you about a terrorist attack on the food system? (1= Not at all concerned to 6=Extremely concerned)
  3. How serious do you think the impact of a terrorist event regarding a common food product would be on your household? (1= Not at all serious to 6=Extremely serious)
  4. How concerned are you about food defense? (1= Not at all concerned to 6=Extremely concerned)

Consumer Perceived Preparedness – CFSTp Survey Questions

Two survey questions, each using Likert 6 point rating scales are used in calculating CFSTp:

  1. In thinking about food safety, that is the natural or accidental contamination of food, do you think the U. S. food supply is safer today than it was a year ago? (1=Definitely not safer to 6=Definitely safer)
  2. In thinking about food defense, do you think the United States is better prepared for a terrorist attack on the food supply than it was a year ago? (1=Definitely not better prepared to 6=Definitely better prepared)


Media Indes – MTI

The media tracking index (MTI) is constructed from daily Boolean searches utilizing the following keywords: food defense, food terrorism, agricultural terrorism or agterrorism, food safety, food poisoning, food contamination, foodborne illnesses, foodborne diseases and food recall. The data is collected on a daily basis, using the academic version of Lexis-Nexis and Newslibrary search tools, from a total of 99 different media sources that fall within the following media categories: national and local newspapers, network TV, cable TV, public broadcasting service, national public radio, news magazines and the internet. Articles and transcript counts are used as the unit of media coverage. The media counts are aggregated on a weekly basis, then standardized and weighted according to public’s use of media sources, which is estimated from a national survey of media use.

The MTI is then used to examine effects of media exposure on the consumer confidence indexes, which are constructed from the ongoing weekly survey of consumer attitudes.

Project Funding

This research is funded by the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD), and is supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Grant number N-00014-04-1-0659), through a grant awarded to the National Center for Food Protection and Defense at the University of Minnesota. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not represent the policy or position of the Department of Homeland Security.

National Center for Food Protection and Defense
A Homeland Security Center of Excellence
University of Minnesota
612.624.2458
NCFPD@umn.edu 

Publications and News

Academic Presentations, Papers, Presentations

Index of Consumer Confidence in the Safety of the United States Food System.
Kinsey, Jean; Harrison, R. Wes; Degeneffe, Dennis; Ferreira, Gustavo; Shiratori, Sakiko.
IN: American Journal of Agricultural Economics, v.91, no.5, December 2009, pp.1470-1476, 2009.

Methodologies for Constructing Media Tracking Indices for Food Safety and Defense Events (PowerPoint). Harrison, Wes; Ferreira, Gustavo; Kinsey, Jean; Degeneffe, Dennis. Paper presented at Agricultural and Applied Economics Association Annual Meeting, Milwaukee, WI, July 26-28, 2009, 2009.

Index of Consumer Confidence in the Safety of the United States Food System.
Kinsey, Jean; Harrison, R. Wes; Degeneffe, Dennis; Ferreira, Gustavo; Shiratori, Sakiko. Invited paper presented at Agricultural and Applied Economics Association Annual Meeting, Milwaukee, WI, July 26-28, 2009, 2009.

Press Releases & Articles

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (2/18/2009)
Consumer Confidence in the Safety of the U.S. Food Supply Drops Following Peanut Butter Contamination Incident
New Continuous Consumer Food Safety/Defense Tracking Study Shows Less then One in Four Consumers Believe the U.S. Food Supply is Safer than it was a Year Ago

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (11/12/2009)
Consumers are aware of H1N1 but proceeding cautiously, University of Minnesota study finds
Nearly 98 percent of consumers are aware of the H1N1 virus and about 10 percent see it as a serious threat to their own households, according to new data from the University of Minnesota’s Food Industry Center.

Research Team

CFST research is a joint project between the University of Minnesota (UMN) and the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center (LSU AgCenter). Investigators from both institutions are involved in study execution and analysis of data. UMN has primary responsibility for administering and maintaining the survey database, whereas the LSU AgCenter will have primary responsibility for constructing and maintaining the media-count data base. Both institutions share all data associated with the proposed project and the analysis.

Principle Investigators

Jean Kinsey
Professor Emeritus, Applied Economics & Director Emeritus, The Food Industry Center
Department of Applied Economics
1994 Buford Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108
jkinsey@umn.edu

Thomas Stinson
Professor, Applied Economics and Minnesota State Economist
Department of Applied Economics
337f Classroom Office Building
1994 Buford Avenue
St Paul, MN 55108
Phone: 612-625-1217
tstinson@umn.edu

R. Wes Harrison
Warner L. Bruner Professor
Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness
Louisiana State University AgCenter
230 Ag. Admin. Bldg
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
Phone: (225) 578-2727
wharrison@agcenter.lsu.edu

Dennis Degeneffe
Research Fellow
The Food Industry Center
University of Minnesota
 

Collaborators

Gustavo Ferreira
Research Associate
Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness
Louisiana State University AgCenter

Abhishek Bhagwat Bharad
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness
Louisiana State University AgCenter

Koel Ghosh
Research Associate
The Food Industry Center
Department of Applied Economics
University of Minnesota

Sakiko Shiratori
Research Assistant
The Food Industry Center
Department of Applied Economics
University of Minnesota

Xudong Ma
Research Assistant
Department of Applied Economics
The Food Industry Center
University of Minnesota

CFST Results

11/8/2010 (.pdf)

9/6/2010 (.pdf)

8/9/2010 (.pdf)

8/3/2010 (.pdf)

5/17/2010 (.pdf)

2/22/2010 (.pdf)

 

Gulf Oil Spill Results

11/8/2010 (.pdf)

8/19/2010 (.pdf)

8/3/2010 (.pdf)