More than two-thirds of Americans worry about the chemicals in their food, and over 10% have little or no confidence in the safety of the food they eat. These are the results of a 2020 survey by biotechnology company BioMérieux and food testing and safety company Merieux NutriSciences.
This is the company’s second international food survey, but the fact that it was conducted during the pandemic makes it unique.
“Unlike every other year, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to reassess the way we think about food safety, as well as the way we eat and buy food,” BioMeriéux said in its introduction to the International Food Safety Consumer Survey 2020 on its website. “This survey will shed some light on what consumers are more concerned about, whether their confidence in the foods they eat has changed and what changes they have made to their eating habits.”
How do the Americans surveyed look after their health? Of Americans surveyed, 73% said they ate more “immune boosting” foods and 59% said they ate fewer processed foods.
Americans are most concerned about the presence of chemicals or bacteria in their food, followed by concerns about food fraud or about manufacturers lying about where food comes from or what ingredients it contains.
The food survey was conducted in France, India, China and the United States. The researchers used a sample of consumers representative of each country’s population, based on gender, age, occupation, and level of education.
“As someone who has represented members of the food and beverage industry for over 30 years, I have always been proud to announce that the United States has the safest food supply in the world,” commented attorney Paul Benson in a post about the survey on the legal website Lexology. He is a partner in the Michael Best law firm in Milwaukee.
Mr Benson raised concerns about pesticides and antibiotics to “raise consumer awareness (and concern) about how their food is grown, processed and prepared. . . [That] continues to be a leading industry trend. ”
But if 70% of Americans are concerned, then who is protecting the US consumer? The answer to that concerns researchers and several government agencies.
Keep an eye out for pesticides
Pesticides have been a major food safety concern for years. And the front line regulator is the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996, “The EPA must ensure that all pesticides used in food in the US meet the strict safety standards of the FQPA,” the EPA website states.
Although a certain amount of the pesticide remains on the product until it reaches consumers, it is carefully tracked and monitored by the EPA. “However, it is important to note that just because a pesticide residue is found on a fruit or vegetable, it does not mean it is unsafe,” the EPA explained. “Very small amounts of pesticides that can remain in or on fruit, vegetables, grains and other foods decrease significantly when plants are harvested, transported, exposed to light, washed, prepared and cooked.”
The non-profit environmental working group (EEC) independently tests common fruit and vegetables for pesticides. Every year they list the “dirty dozen” – the 12 foods with the most pesticide residues: strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes.
A 2018 study by environmental and reproductive health (EARTH) researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that women trying to get pregnant using in vitro fertilization were more likely to succeed when they got fruit and ate vegetables with fewer pesticides.
However, according to Sheah Rarback, a dietitian registered with the University of Miami School of Medicine, eating fruits and vegetables outweighs the risk. “All scientists and even the EEC staff agree that not eating vegetables and fruits is the greatest health risk,” wrote Ms. Rarback in an article for the Miami Herald. She reminded consumers that to see negative effects of pesticides, they would have to eat an enormous amount of products in a short period of time.
The Alliance for American Food and Farmers even has a calculator that consumers can use to get an idea of how much product they would have to eat to be at risk.
Chemicals are the main ingredient in food
Of course, all food is made up of chemicals. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stated: “All food is made up of chemical substances. Chemicals in food are largely harmless and often desirable – for example, nutrients like carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber are made up of chemical compounds. “
Even the things that add color and taste to our natural foods are chemicals. This doesn’t mean that all chemicals are good. Some chemicals are toxic, although a person typically needs constant high levels of exposure, EFSA said. There are also regulations in place to avoid exposure to known nasty chemicals.
What about antibiotics in food?
Antibiotics are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2017, it became illegal to use antibiotics for production purposes. Antibiotics can make some animals grow larger faster, but their use requires veterinary approval.
For people who are concerned, the Agriculture Department officially certifies that it has inspected a production line. When a product is labeled “USDA Process Verified” you can trust claims that it was “never made antibiotics” or “without antibiotics”.
We all know that antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat are known to make people sick. Good food safety is one of the main ways in which infections can be avoided. According to the FDA, this means running a clean kitchen, rinsing vegetables under running water, storing and separately producing raw meat, fully cooking meat, and properly refrigerating food.
Don’t waste the good stuff
In some good news, more than half of all Americans surveyed said they would be willing to eat odd or irregularly shaped fruits and vegetables. Anecdotally, the Defense Council on Natural Resources said quite a few products are lost or killed after being picked due to unusual shape, size, weight, or blemishes. Campaigns to get people to eat irregular, often discarded products have been welcomed to reduce food waste.
Take them home
It is best for Americans who are concerned about chemical adulteration in their food to research. There are some agencies that protect food, but there are also labels like “Organic” or “USDA Process Verified” that can mean certain things about the item.
For everyone, concerned or not, properly washing and cooking food is an essential first step in protecting health.
Sabrina Emms is a science journalist. She began as an intern on a health and science podcast on Philadelphia public radio. Before that, she worked as a researcher studying the way bones are formed. When she is not in the laboratory and at her computer, she is in the moonlight as an assistant to a pig veterinarian and bagel baker.