Do Americans trust their food?

Elizabeth Flores/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT/Newscom/File
In February, supermarkets like Byerly's Grocery in St. Louis Park, Minn., tried to ease consumers' worries about a salmonella outbreak in some brands of peanut butter.

Chalk up another sector of the US economy that consumers are growing wary of: processed foods.

Fewer than 20 percent of Americans strongly trust food companies to develop and sell food products that are safe and healthy, according to an IBM survey released Wednesday.

That's down there with other fallen angels of the recession. For example: Only 22 percent of Americans say they have high confidence in banks – down 10 points from a year ago and a record low, according to a Gallup poll also released Wednesday. Confidence is even worse for HMOs (18 percent) and big business (16 percent).

In the case of food companies, though, the problem isn't recession. It's food safety.

A whopping 83 percent of Americans in the new IBM survey could name a food product that had been recalled in the past two years. That was 20 percentage points higher than in 2007. (Nearly half named peanut butter; 15 percent identified spinach.)

Another worrying stat for the industry: Only 55 percent said they trusted food manufacturers to handle a recall of contaminated food, down from 64 percent in 2007, according to IBM, which surveyed 1,000 consumers in the 10 largest US cities.

"Clearly, over the past couple of years, there's been an erosion of trust," said Guy Blissett, consumer products leader for the IBM Institute for Business Value, in a telephone interview. "Consumers are still very, very hungry for information about the food that they buy.... The industry as a whole has made some strides, but there's still a very, very large gap."

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