New consumer research presented to beef safety experts gathered for the 10th Anniversary Beef Industry Safety Summit, funded in part by the beef checkoff, shows the beef industry's investment in assuring the safety of beef is paying off in increased consumer confidence. Compared to 10 years ago consumer confidence in the safety of beef steaks and roasts has increased by 14 percentage points and confidence in the safety of ground beef has jumped 20 percentage points. According to the research, 88 percent of consumers give fresh beef steaks and roasts an A or B grade for safety and 80 percent say fresh ground beef deserves the same grade.
"Getting good grades from consumers for our work to improve beef safety is very rewarding," says J. Clay Burtum, an Oklahoma cattle rancher and member of the Beef Industry Safety Committee. "We have made tremendous strides in the past 10 years and it is good to know that is recognized by consumers. I believe we can accomplish as much in the next 10 years by continuing to find ways to work together with everyone in the beef community to make beef even safer. We want to get all As."
Beef safety experts agree that beef is safer than it was 10 years ago but the research did uncover some important differences between consumer and expert opinions. When asked whether someone is more likely to get sick from foodborne bacteria eating at home or at a restaurant, 65 percent of consumers answered "at a restaurant." However, 72 percent of the experts attending the summit answered "at home."
In fact, statistics back up the experts' opinion showing between 60 percent and 70 percent of foodborne illnesses occur at home. Similarly, 92 percent of experts say proper cooking and handling at home is of high importance in assuring that beef is safe to eat while just under half (49 percent) of consumers recognize the importance of proper procedures in the home.
"We have some work to do to engage consumers in beef safety, like using a meat thermometer to ensure that ground beef reaches a safe internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit," says Burtrum.
The study found that 70 percent of consumers don't know the proper cooking temperature for ground beef.
The research found another "perception vs. reality" gap between the consumers and experts regarding whether the number of people getting sick from foodborne illness is increasing or decreasing. Nearly half of the beef safety experts say the number of foodborne illnesses is decreasing (49 percent) while more than one-third of consumers (38 percent) say the number is increasing. Although this seems a high percentage of consumers believing foodborne illness is increasing, only a few years ago (2008) nearly half (49 percent) of consumers felt foodborne illness was increasing.
In addition, consumers now are less concerned about foodborne illness from E. coli in ground beef with a much smaller percentage (19 percent) saying they thought those illnesses are increasing.
In fact, it isn't beef safety consumers are concerned about. When asked which fresh food they might buy in the supermarket was their biggest safety concern, 48 percent of consumers answered "Fish and Seafood." Only 10 percent said beef was their biggest safety concern. This percentage also has shown improvement over time. When the Beef Safety Summit was initiated 10 years ago, 20 percent of consumers said beef was their biggest safety worry.
"The bottom-line is that beef is much safer today than it was 10 years ago and our goal is to keep improving beef safety," says Burtrum. "The main topic of discussion at the Beef Industry Safety Summit was how we can work together to continue improving beef safety in the next decade."
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