Analysis of Governmental Web Sites on Food Safety Issues: A Global Perspective

By Namkung, Young; Almanza, Barbara A. | Journal of Environmental Health, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Analysis of Governmental Web Sites on Food Safety Issues: A Global Perspective


Namkung, Young, Almanza, Barbara A., Journal of Environmental Health


Introduction

Food safety has been a growing consumer concern over the last few decades, and it remains a priority for consumers, the food industry, and regulators alike (Almanza, Nelson, & Lee, 2003; Brewer & Prestat, 2002; Brom, 2000; Mead et al., 1999; Miles, Brennan, Kuznesof, Ness, & Frewer, 2004). The emphasis on food safety is likely related to several factors, including greater visibility of national statistics on the causes of foodborne illness, changes in regulations that improve the inspection system and the training of food service managers, and previous food safety research that highlights the need for improvements in specific food practices (Almanza & Sneed, 2003).

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The trend in food safety awareness has spiked as foodborne-illness outbreaks have reduced consumer confidence in the healthfulness of food products (Miles, Braxton, & Frewer, 1999). Although the general level of food safety concern has increased, annual surveys conducted by the Economic Research Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2002) have revealed that consumer confidence has been declining since 1996 (USDA, 2002). Food safety is important to all consumers, and it is clear that food safety issues call for a governmental response, because in many ways it is beyond the abilities of individual consumers to deal with these issues (Rippe, 1999).

Public Concern and Knowledge About Food Safety Issues

Because of the growing concern surrounding food safety issues, consumer attitudes toward food safety issues have been a perennial topic of research. Previous studies have addressed levels of consumers' concern and major issues related to food safety, which have changed over time (Brewer & Prestat, 2002; Miles et al., 2004). Some remarkable events that have occurred over the past 30 years may have affected consumers' attitudes about food safety (Brewer & Prestat, 2002). Temporary increases in concern about food safety can result from occurrences such as the Alar contamination of apples and the E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak on the West Coast. Long-term issues, such as irradiation and the use of genetically modified organisms, also continue to shape the debate over food safety (Brewer & Prestat, 2002).

Furthermore, the increase in global travel heightens the need for continued awareness and proactive management of food safety issues to sustain a favorable consumer opinion and growth of the world's tourism industry (Landro, 2005). The National Sanitation Foundation International's conference on Food Safety in Travel and Tourism, held in Barcelona, Spain, in 2000, represented the first attempt to bring together the world's food safety and tourism research communities (MacLaurin, 2001). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common health problem for travelers is gastrointestinal ailments caused by contaminated food or water, especially in developing countries in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia (Landro, 2005). Realizing the growing concern surrounding food safety issues during travel, prestigious institutions such as CDC (www.cdc.gov/travel), the World Health Organization (WHO) (www.who.int/ith/en), and the State Department (www.travel.state.gov) have created comprehensive sites that provide information for travelers, including updates on disease outbreaks, recommended vaccinations for travelers of all ages, advice on health risks, and guidelines for preparing a travel health kit. There is no doubt that food safety is an important component of overall travel safety.

The Importance of Web Sites as a Major Information Source on Food Safety Issues

Scrutiny of the way consumers use the Internet as an information source has become an intriguing subject for both researchers and practitioners (Bei, Chen, & Widdows, 2004). The growing dependence on the Internet as an information source is due to the easy access it provides to necessary information and the availability of abundant information (Porter, 2001). …

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