One of ERS's charges is to study the market consequences of failures in food safety systems. A number of studies have focused on how consumers respond to food safety recalls and warnings by Federal health and safety officials to temporarily avoid particular foods.

Research studies attempt to answer the following questions:

  • Do consumers avoid foods that they have been warned to avoid?
  • How long does it take for demand to return to its pre-warning state after officials give the "all clear"? and
  • How closely do consumers parse warnings, either making substitutions to similar foods or avoiding such foods on the assumption that similar foods are similarly contaminated?

ERS research adds to the knowledge base about consumer behavior and how food choices change when consumers are temporarily warned to avoid particular foods. In addition to warnings about the domestic food supply, highly publicized domestic or international food safety incidents may change consumer perceptions about food safety and their food purchasing patterns. Some consumers avoid purchasing foods they perceive as unsafe; even after a safety problem with a particular food has been resolved, consumer perceptions about the implicated food product and about the ability of the supplier or exporting country to produce safe food may be slow to change.