A study being conducted by MichiganStateUniversity on behalf of consulting firm DNV finds that U.S. consumers are highly aware of food-safety issues and they have high recognition of third party certification as an effective signal of food safety assurance. The consumers strongly prefer to see products labeled as safety certified.

"Consumers are not only aware of food safety issues they are actually changing their shopping habits due to food safety concerns," says Dr. Chris Peterson, director of the ProductCenter at MSU. "Nearly half of the consumers we surveyed indicated a change in shopping patterns."

These and other findings are the results of over 400 consumers surveyed across the country representing a wide variety of demographics, education and income levels. Under the guidance of the MSU team, the surveys were conducted online by an independent research firm.

"We are conducting a two-phase study with MSU," says Kathy Wybourn, director of food safety solutions for DNV. "This first phase reflects consumer perceptions of food safety and third party food safety certification. We are moving into phase two where we'll be interviewing various food industry professionals to get their pulse on the business processes and various auditing schemes that relate to food safety."

In addition to indicating a high sensitivity to food safety issues, US consumers say they want to see evidence on product labels that the food they are buying has passed some kind of independent safety certification process. Moreover, slightly more than one third of consumers indicate a willingness to pay a premium, upwards of 30 percent more.

"It is interesting and important to note that higher price alone is not a direct signal of safer food," says Dr. Peterson. "Even brand name recognition is not the most powerful indicator of safety. Voluntary third party certification compares favorably with mandatory government inspection and slightly ahead of traceability labeling in the mind of the consumer. In fact, most consumers would advise the food industry to invest proportionately more in certification programs than in government inspection or traceability."

Phase two of the food safety and safety certification research study is expected to be completed in mid April with findings available shortly thereafter.

"All the efforts of the food industry are, ultimately, focused on the consumer and in the case of food safety we need to understand how the consumer evaluates safety signals and where they place their trust," says Ms. Wybourn." A certification label has strong positive meaning to the consumer in regard to food safety, and that conclusion itself is a signal to everyone involved in the food supply chain, be it growers or manufacturers or retailers, to intensify efforts to adopt clear and meaningful independent safety certification."