Creating a Food Safety Dialogue with Customers


The dialogue about the safety of our food supply just keeps heating up.

This month, Consumer Reports released their findings on levels of arsenic, a known carcinogen, in rice and rice products. You can read the article here.

Arsenic is a metal that is found naturally in the water, soil and air; however, industrial activities such as pesticide use, wood processing and mining also contribute to arsenic levels.

Arsenic is pervasive and does not readily dissipate from soils and so even though many arsenic-containing pesticides are no longer in use, the arsenic remains.

The primary reason for the concern is that arsenic is classified as a cancer-causing substance and that there has been no previous oversight with regards to arsenic levels in our food supply.

Foods studied by Consumer Reports include those that are common in many households, such as rice cakes, infant cereal and rice syrup, in addition to rice.

Why is rice such a concern?

Both where it is grown and the way it is grown contribute. Rice is grown in flooded plains, allowing the grains to more readily take up arsenic in water or soil.

If that soil has been previously contaminated with arsenic, the rice will have higher levels.

It is understandable for retailers to feel overwhelmed by the information the media presents on food safety and quality.

While not all retailers can have access to health professionals to field consumer concerns, it is important to engage in a dialogue with your customers.

After all, they are likely feeling just as overwhelmed and are looking to you help in making safe choices for their family.

Some approaches to think about:

Take customers’ concerns seriously and prepare a simple response. Trying to gloss over concerns can lead to a loss of trust; in such a challenging food climate, trust is paramount to maintaining strong customer relationships.

Share the information from the study. Offer information to help inform consumers who may be acting on little more than a headline. The Consumer Reports article offers clear guidelines about how much rice they think consumers can safely eat long term.

Talk to suppliers and share customers’ concerns. Suppliers will respond to consumer demand – you are their consumer. The more suppliers hear concerns vocalized, the more likely they will be to take action and help you provide safe products for your customers.

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