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Canadians bounced back from the 2012 beef scare relating to E. coli bacteria

Canadians bounced back from the 2012 beef scare relating to E. coli bacteria, according to a survey conducted by a University of Guelph research team.

The detailed survey looked at Ontarians purchasing and consumption of beef after the XL Foods temporary closure due to bacteria found in processed meat in September 2012. According to an independent report released Wednesday in Alberta, 18 consumers became sick and 1,800 products were removed from Canadian and U.S. markets. The Guelph researchers found in their survey though that while there was an initial large downswing in the purchasing and consumption of beef in the 130 individuals, the beef market has since largely recovered.

The detailed peer-reviewed survey’s findings will be presented at the International Food Marketing Research Symposium in Budapest, Hungary, which takes place June 20 and 21.

Prof. Sylvain Charlebois, associate dean of the College of Management and Economics (CME) at Guelph, conducted the survey with CME Prof. Michael von Massow and masters student Warren Pinto. They wanted to understand how much of an impact the food recall had on consumers’ tendencies.

“Given that this was a relatively unknown food processor that was responsible, we were uncertain how consumers would respond,” Charlebois said. “The results indicate that while there was a decrease in beef consumption right after the recall, many who lowered their beef consumption are now eating the same amount of beef as they did before the scare. 94 per cent of respondents said they eat beef. We also found that most people feel at ease with Canadian meat products.”

The researchers also found that, unlike in past surveys, older respondents and younger respondents generally had the same reaction to the E. coli outbreak. In the past, older respondents would react more cautiously to the news of a food safety scare.

“What we also found interesting is that a fair number of respondents were aware of the recall but don’t listen to the news all that much,” said Charlebois. “This suggests that some consumers may have been influenced by other less traditional outlets, such as social media.”

While the survey suggests that most people will recover from the initial scare of a food safety incident, Charlebois said that there are still important lessons for the food industry.

“When dealing with such a massive recall, regulators and industry may want to expand the scope of their risk communication strategy,” he said.

“It seems less traditional information sources influence consumers’ perception on food products, which may make the food industry more vulnerable to subsequent food recalls. Rumours can spread quickly, so it’s important to get correct information into as many different information channels as possible.”


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