An online survey among a national sample of 2,357 adults aged 18 or over showed that more than half of US consumers are concerned with the safety of food purchased at the grocery store.

The survey found that 63% of all US adults are extremely or very concerned with the cleanliness of restaurants they eat at, translating to approximately 140m adults. In addition, 52% were concerned with the safety of food purchased in the grocery store, 51% to the quality of drinking water in their community, 44% to the healthiness of ingredients in the foods they eat and 41% to the origin of the fresh produce they consume.

In all of these cases, women were found to be more likely concerned than men, and adults aged 35 and over more likely to be concerned than those aged 18 to 34, according to Harris Interactive.

Harris noted that from mid-September to early October, the US experienced a multi-state E coli outbreak due to contamination of bagged spinach, with, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 199 persons from 26 states were infected.
Nearly all adults in the survey said they are at least somewhat familiar with the outbreak, with 35% extremely or very familiar with it. Among those who are at least somewhat familiar, 83% of those polled most associated prepackaged, fresh spinach sold in a bag or plastic box with the outbreak . Other items mentioned included fresh spinach sold loose, at 40%, prepackaged fresh lettuce (30%) and fresh lettuce sold by the head (19%).

"Food safety has been a growing concern for the past ten years and it continues to be an important issue to consumers," said 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."

The market research firm said that about two-in-five of those who associated a particular item with the outbreak stopped eating the item, including prepackaged spinach, prepackaged lettuce, lettuce sold by the head and loose spinach.