Despite Warnings, Few Food-related Illnesses Get Reported: WSJ/Harris Poll

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Over one in 10 adults said they or someone in their household had gotten sick from food they bought at the supermarket, a restaurant or elsewhere, yet only a third of those reported the incident, according to the latest Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive Health-Care Poll.

In the poll, most adults said they follow food safety warnings to some degree, and many avoid food products suspected of being unsafe for some period of time. The pollsters said this indicated that consumer food safety warning outreach campaigns are reasonably effective.

Of adults who said they or someone in their household have gotten sick from food that they bought at a supermarket or some other place, 13 percent said they did not report it to anyone. Just over one-third (35 percent) said they reported it to the place where the food was purchased (20 percent); their doctor (17 percent); or a local government agency (4 percent).

The poll also revealed that a majority of adults (58 percent) think the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be primarily responsible for setting the rules for food handling, production, and packaging. Fewer said the local department of health (12 percent) or the companies that produce and distribute food products (12 percent) should bear the responsibility.

Ninety-five percent said they follow food safety announcements to some extent. Of these, 67 percent stop eating the product involved until they learn it is safe to eat; another 15 percent stop eating the product entirely. Nine percent stop eating the product for some time, but do not look for additional information to see when it's safe to eat again. Another nine percent do nothing at all.

Pollsters said the findings suggest that with greater awareness and education, consumers could play a more effective role in food safety by reporting instances when they suspect that they or a family member are sick from something they ate.

The online survey of 2,041 U.S. adults, ages 18 and older, was conducted by Harris Interactive from Dec. 12 to 14, and results were published in The Wall Street Journal Online's Health Industry Edition.
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