WASHINGTON Only about 60 percent of Americans search their homes for foods recalled because of contamination, researchers reported on Tuesday.
The United States has had several major food recalls in recent years, including a Salmonella outbreak that sickened 700 people and was linked to the deaths of nine this year and an ongoing recall of pistachios contaminated with the bacteria.
But a survey by Rutgers University in New Jersey showed that many Americans believe they are less likely than others to have bought recalled products.
"Getting consumers to pay attention to news about recalls isn't the hard part. It's getting them to take the step of actually looking for recalled food products in their homes," said William Hallman, a professor of human ecology who led the study.
The Rutgers team surveyed 1,101 Americans in August and September of last year.
"Most Americans (84 percent) say that they pay close attention to news reports about food recalls and 81 percent say that when they hear about a food recall, they tell others about it," the report said.
In 2006, there were 34 recalls of meat and poultry products and 65 recalls of other foods.
The survey, found at www.foodpolicy.rutgers.edu, found that 80 percent correctly said that recalls of food were more frequent lately than in past years.
It found that 40 percent of people who paid attention to recalls said they believed the foods they bought were less likely to be recalled than those purchased by others.
About half said recalls have had no impact on their lives.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million people become ill from food every year, with 325,000 sick enough to go to the hospital and 5,000 dying from food poisoning.
"While this suggests that nearly every American has experienced symptoms of a foodborne infection, only 18 percent of the respondents reported that they had ever been personally made sick as the result of eating contaminated food," the report said.
Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed said they would like to receive personalized information about recalls on store receipts, and more than 60 percent said they also would also like to receive such information via letter or e-mail.
Just 12 percent reported eating a food they thought had been recalled, while more than 25 percent said they threw out food after hearing about a recall.
"Our research also points out that instructions to consumers must be clear and comprehensible if you want them to act appropriately after a food recall," Hallman said in a statement.
The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, suggested that instructions from regulators such as the Food and Drug Administration and USDA must be very clear and simple.
(Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Paul Simao)