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Consumers: what food recall?

For the food industry, recalls are an everyday occurence. In the last week alone, the Canada Food Inspection Agency issued six warnings.

Most recalls are relatively minor and encompass small companies and a limited number of products. Yet some, such as the recent Saputo cheese recall, are more widespread.

One question that hardly gets asked, though, is whether consumers notice food recalls and whether recalls alter shopping habits. The answer may lie in a new study out of the U.S. by NPD Group.

The study, which was written about in an article in the New York Times, notes that while consumers worry about food contamination, recalls tend to have a short-term effect on what they buy.

“We don’t see food leaving our diet because of safety issues,” Harry Balzer, vice-president of NPD Group, told the paper. “Habit always drives us back to that place where we were.”

However, the time it takes shoppers to return to a product after a recall depends largely on the product itself. According to sales analysis, it took shoppers over a year to return to spinach after a recall in 2006. But it took only weeks for shoppers to stock up on eggs and peanut butter again after those items were recalled recently.

The reason, according to NPD, might be that eggs and peanut butter are household staples and people find it more difficult to keep them out of their diet, versus a less popular food like spinach.

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