Source: Nation's Restaurant News

General public concern about food safety has shown a marked increase over the past two years, according to a recent survey by Chicago-based consultancy Technomic.

In a poll conducted in mid-July, Technomic found that 40 percent of consumers were “extremely concerned” about food safety issues in restaurants.

In a similar September 2012 poll from the company, 38 percent of people surveyed said they were “extremely concerned” about food safety, and 32 percent of survey respondents said the same in a July 2011 poll.

“Consumers’ awareness and concern about food safety in restaurants seem to be slowly growing,” Technomic said in this month’s American Express Market Briefing.

Further Technomic data indicated that younger people were more worried about food safety than those in older groups. Among people ages 18 to 24, 58 percent said they were “extremely concerned” and 29 percent said they were “somewhat concerned” about food safety. Those percentages grew smaller in older survey age groups.

Technomic also found that 44 percent of women said they were “extremely concerned” about food safety compared to 36 percent of men surveyed about the issue.

Technomic conducted its poll before the recent discovery of an 18-state outbreak of the foodborne Cyclospora parasite, which has been linked to at least 535 identified cases. The cases were linked to bagged lettuce from Mexico served in, among other places, Red Lobster and Olive Garden. As a result, parent company Darden Restaurants Inc. is facing several lawsuits from those claiming to have fallen ill.

The reports of Cyclospora lawsuits came as a judge in the U.S. District Court for Northern California ruled this week that the Federal Food and Drug Administration may no longer extend deadlines on releasing policies ordered by the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act. Congress originally ordered the FSMA deadlines to be completed by July 2012, and the judge sided with the Center for Food Safety in the lawsuit.

In addition to the foodborne illness concerns, global scandals have kept food-safety issues in the news. The past year has seen incidents related to meat suppliers in Europe, where horse DNA has been found in products labeled as beef, and in China, where reports pointed to the rampant use of growth hormones in the nation’s chicken supply.

Yum! Brands Inc. has said that the poultry supply issues have contributed to its worsening same-store sales in China, where it saw a 16-percent decrease for its KFC brand in July. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Yum said, “KFC sales were negatively impacted by the residual effects of adverse publicity surrounding the December poultry supply incident.”