GREATER trust needs to be built between consumers and food providers if public confidence is to be ensured over adequate food safety measures.
That's one of the outcomes from a Flinders University study which has gone over the relationship between food safety and consumers.
Researchers at Flinders University spent five years working with industry and regulators on a model that could help rebuild or maintain consumer trust in the food system if a food safety incident occurs.
According to the university, concerns over food safety after Australia's September 2018 adulterated strawberries scandal have created a lingering lack of trust between consumers and the food industry.
This was despite the fact a strong model for safety compliance and transparent information already exists.
However, a recent study shows most consumers aren't aware that such a system exists, and they remain sceptical about whether such action would be implemented effectively after an incident.
The research team initially designed a food security response model with regulators, the media and food industry representatives that resulted in a 2016 paper introducing the model, published in Health Promotion International Journal.
Researcher Dr Emma Tonkin, from the Southgate Institute for Health Society and Equity at Flinders University, said the model outlines 10 strategies that match consumer views about what is required to rebuild or maintain consumer trust in the food supply after a food safety scare.
The challenge is now to promote the existence and application of this model more effectively.
A trust gap currently exists. Our research suggests that consumers may question whether industry is being compliant with the model strategies, and a lack of acceptance or belief by consumers that strategies like full transparency would be acted on.- Dr Emma Tonkin
"The main point of this model is achieving transparency, to provide clear information about what procedures are in place to counter confusion and misinformation during a food safety incident," Dr Tonkin said.
"Consumers involved in our study agree that industry should do what our model suggests - but many people don't believe it occurs.
"A trust gap currently exists. Our research suggests that consumers may question whether industry is being compliant with the model strategies, and a lack of acceptance or belief by consumers that strategies like full transparency would be acted on.
"Because consumers mostly don't know that protocols exist for managing a food scare or scandal, but report that they would feel safer if they did, industry and regulators need to work harder at getting the message across.
"This research shows there is a big question about whose responsibility is it to access or share this type of information that already exists - is it the consumer, the regulator, or industry?
"The new study identifies a need for more clarity to prevent the type of confusion that currently exists."
Dr Tonkin said the research group's next goal is to learn how extensively the recommended model is being applied across the food industry.
"There is a lot of adversarial talk between consumers and the food industry, but by using an effective model that has transparent communication at its core, we believe a lot of positive outcomes and progress in food security can be made," she said.