News amplification: Mad cow disease far greater impact on beef purchases than E. coli

In December 2003, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) was discovered in the United States. This food safety event received extensive media coverage and prompted changes in regulatory controls.

bse.cow.may.16Using a panel selection model, we show that prior to December 2003, ground beef recalls had no impact on household purchases of ground beef, even for households that were located in the recall-defined geographic areas. However, we find robust evidence that the 2003 BSE event caused a change in the way people view and respond to recalls of ground beef, a change that persisted for at least two years following the BSE event.

The average impact of a ground beef recall in the post-BSE period is a 0.26 lb per person reduction in retail purchases of ground beef. A decline in purchases of this magnitude would result in over $97 million in losses to the beef industry in a two-week period following a nationwide recall.

This dwarfs the economic impacts of directly removing recalled beef from supply chains and provides FSIS increased regulatory power due to higher overall industry costs associated with food safety violations.

Changes in U.S. consumer response to food safety recalls in shadow of a BSE scare

Mykel Taylora, H. Allen Klaiberb, Fred Kuchlerc

Food Policy, Volume 62, July 2016, Pages 56-64, doi:10.1016/j.foodpol.2016.04.005

The food (safety) cycle: recall, forget, repeat

Memories can be short when it comes to food recalls.

Amy Schoenfeld writes in Sunday’s New York Times that while Americans are concerned about food contamination, experts say that recalls have only a short-term effect on consumers.

When spinach was recalled in 2006, consumers took over a year to return to previous spending patterns. But after recent recalls of peanut butter, beef and eggs, customers came back in a matter of weeks.

One explanation for this is that eggs are a staple; nearly 9 in 10 Americans say they eat them. By contrast, only 5 in 10 Americans say they are spinach eaters. After the spinach recall, 10 percent of spinach eaters said they were unlikely to eat spinach again. In contrast, 3 percent of egg eaters said they would stop purchasing eggs.

Rather than waiting to sue after sickness, consumers could use their buying power to demand microbiologically safer food, if someone would start marketing at retail.

How I buy meat – Powell hazardous waste version

A blogger named Jenny called me last week and asked me how I buy meat.

So this is what I told her as documented in her blog, Dinner A Love Story.

My first guest is Doug Powell, associate professor, food safety, Dept. Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, Kansas State University and the father of five girls. His entertainingly combative regularly takes Whole Foods and (no!!!) Michael Pollan to task.

So Doug Powell, how do you buy meat?

“I go to the biggest supermarket I can find — Dillons, Walmart, Krogers. I’ll buy a whole chicken at Dillons for some ridiculously low price, like 99 cents a pound. Because I know they have quality control measures in place to reduce microbial loads before they get in the store. I would never shop at any of those places like Whole Foods. What they are peddling is complete nonsense from a safety point a view. Whole Foods is so concerned about being natural and whatever else that they don’t pay attention to the basics like cross-contamination. They’re sloppy about that.

“It’s not about lovingly raising an animal which I’m sure lots of farmers do. It’s about testing. In separate USA Today stories last year, both Costco and McDonalds were highlighted for their rigorous safety standards. I’m not talking quality here, I’m talking safety. Given the number of things they serve, those places can’t afford to screw up.

“When I buy ground beef, I treat it like hazardous waste, and make burgers mixed with about 20 per cent ground turkey. A butcher grinding meat in front of me means nothing from a safety perspective. If there’s poop on the outside, it’s now on the inside, which is why I always — always — use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to make sure any food is properly cooked. There’s just too many people out there getting sick.”