Food Recalls and the American Public: Improving Communications

William K. Hallman, Cara L. Cuite
This paper provides guidance for government and industry groups who communicate about food recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks. While the overall safety of the American food supply is good, several recent high profile outbreaks have resulted in increased attention on the food system, and the American public has the sense that food recalls are occurring more frequently. With additional improvements in outbreak surveillance and the technical ability to identify outbreak strains of pathogens,
more » ... ains of pathogens, it is likely that there will be more warnings, advisories, and recalls in the future. As a result, providing clear, motivating, and accurate communication about food recalls to the public will be more essential than ever. Wherever possible, the recommendations provided here are based on empirical data, most of it collected by the Rutgers Food Policy Institute (FPI). In addition, the recommendations provided fit within a framework rooted in the psychology of health behaviors and behavior change. Simply telling people about a food recall is often not enough to motivate them to look for and discard recalled products. Instead, getting people to take action requires that they are aware of the recall, believe it applies to them, believe that the consequences are serious enough to warrant action, can identify the affected products, and believe that discarding (or returning) the product is both necessary and sufficient to resolve the problem. The framework used here also recognizes that getting people motivated to take action is only the first responsibility of food recall communications, because once the problem that led to the recall has been properly solved, consumers must also receive the message that the products are safe again to eat. This paper presents ways to improve awareness, increase relevance, convey consequences, accentuate identifying information, compel appropriate actions and reestablish consumer confidence, and each is discussed at length. Each recommendation on its own is a necessary but not sufficient component [...]
doi:10.7282/t3639rqx fatcat:zc5vvqufdraazgt2gnqkbjp66u