A UK survey of 1000 people into the public's perception of food risk reveals that over a quarter of consumers (27 per cent) considers food to be more risky now, compared with a year ago.
The presence of additives in food products (25 per cent) is the food-related risk that worries them most.
"Food firms communicate in times of stress, but outside of these times they do not talk about the processes and policies they adopt on a daily basis to ensure best practise in food safety," says Kirsten Davies associate director at Razor Public Relations that commissioned the survey.
Davies believes food firms can only stand to benefit from translating complex issues linked to the food industry into consumer-comprehensible communications.
The discovery of the potentially carcinogenic sudan 1, a red dye banned under European rules, in Worcester sauce rocked the food industry in February as the UK carried out its biggest recall in history.
Used as both a tabletop sauce and food ingredient, the cost of the sauce brand recall, made by UK manufacturer Premier Foods, is in excess of €200 million.
Company-wounding costs include sales loss, destruction, management time, plus the 'softer' costs like brand damage.
Holding sway on public opinion, it is clear from the survey results that the recall has deepened consumer suspicions of additives.
Not only this. The results confirm confusion inherent in the shopper as to the definition of an additive.
While 25 per cent said they were worried about additives, 12 per cent claimed to be concerned about harmful ingredients. Sudan 1 would fall into the latter category, but the survey findings show consumers clearly perceive the illegal food colour as an additive.
This discrepancy demonstrates the clear opportunities that exist for food makers, and the food industry as a whole, to improve communication to the consumer.
"Those companies who turn out to be best placed will use a combination of proactive and targeted communication as well as risk and crisis management strategies that are clearly understood by all levels of an organisation, from the company switchboard up to the MD," comments Chris Woodcock, Razor director.