Informing consumers about safety of their food and drink is an essential task that the food industry takes seriously. We spoke to Nina McGrath from EUFIC who lays out some basic principles in communicating about food safety.
Food safety is quite rightly at the top of the list of important factors that European citizens consider when buying food today. According to a 2019 Special Eurobarometer, people living in the EU have a high level of awareness about food safety issues. Awareness of different types of food safety risks varies from country to country, but in general people have heard about many different topics related to food safety, including additives, a wide range of contaminants, food hygiene and food poisoning, allergies and more. Just as knowledge and awareness about food safety differs across the EU, different food risks can also affect people differently, depending on factors such as diet, lifestyle and health or socio-economic status.
To address the complexity that comes with the breadth of topics related to food safety combined with individual information needs, the basic tenets of communicating about food safety risks remain as important as ever. In a nutshell, we, as food safety communicators, need to make sure that we:
- Have a good grasp of the facts we need to communicate, so that we can translate into accurate, accessible and actionable information
- Take time to think about the audience we want to reach, and through which channels we can best reach them
- Develop an awareness of the context we are communicating in, by monitoring the public discourse and engaging in discussion with other stakeholders working in the same subject area.
But is this enough?
Despite the value of this advice, we are clearly living in an era of prolific misinformation. Food safety communicators have to ask ourselves how we can adapt to current trends and make sure that we are reaching our audiences with reliable information. In order to really reach people in today’s (frequently digital) information environment, we need switch our mindsets to one where we talk with our audiences and not at them. One way to do this is to take advantage of new and evolving digital communication tools to both listen to our audiences questions and fears, before communicating back to them with empathy for their emotions. Towards this goal, as part of the FoodSafety4EU project, EUFIC and project partners will be developing new models for maximising public engagement in and supporting effective communication of future food safety research.
Expanding the scope
Last but not least, while in Europe today our food is arguably safer and more accessible than ever before, there does still appear to be significant lack of public trust in the food supply. A holistic approach to communicating about food more broadly is important to improving consumers trust in the food supply and helping people understand how to eat safely, healthily and sustainably. Besides food safety and risk information, people also need reliable and transparent information on:
- Advice on how to make healthier and more sustainable diet and lifestyle choices
- Practical advice they can apply to keep their own food safe during preparation at home
- Better food science education, to promote understanding of process technologies and innovation in food.
- Government policies and controls put in place to ensure the safety, transparency and sustainability of the food supply chain
- Positive food industry initiatives like successful reformulation efforts