Changes in spending food preparation and consumption

As disposable income has risen in the industrialized countries, the proportion of household income needed to purchase food has dropped, even as total spending on food has increased. In 1929 in the United States, families and individuals spent nearly one-quarter of their disposable income on food; by mid-century this had fallen to 20 percent, and in 2005 was 9.9 percent (Figure 8.2). Canada, the United Kingdom, and most of the countries in Western Europe have similar spending shares of 10-12 percent. By stark contrast, in developing countries food expenditures often account for 50 percent or more of family income.

In 2005, American spending on food was $1 billion, with families and individuals accounting for approximately 85 percent. The location where these expenditures occurred continues a remarkable and sustained trend with clear ramifications for food safety issues. In 1935, only 3 percent of total food expenditures were spent on food away from home; this has risen steadily to 48 percent today (Figure 8.3). Stated differently, in 1935, 3 cents of every food dollar was spent for food away from home; today, 48 cents of every dollar of food expenditures is spent at restaurants, fast food outlets, snack bars, catering establishments, cafeterias, and other commercial food-service locations.

Because commercial food service establishments are profit oriented, they are sensitive to consumer preference. The proliferation of salad bars and offerings of raw and/or cold items is in response to consumer preference, which in turn has prompted greater reliance on imports to meet year-round demand. To maintain profitability, the commercial food-service operators must hold down costs,

Years

Figure 8.2 Food expenditures as a share of disposable income for families and individuals. Source: data from the Economic Research Service, US Department of Agriculture.

Years

Figure 8.2 Food expenditures as a share of disposable income for families and individuals. Source: data from the Economic Research Service, US Department of Agriculture.

Figure 8.3 Location of total food expenditures. Source: Economic Research Service, US Department of Agriculture.

which currently account for 86 cents of every dollar in sales, compared with an average of 76 cents for all US industry. This keeps the pressure on wages to remain low, with the aforementioned consequence of high employee turnover rates and difficulty maintaining a high degree of food safety education among food-service workers.

These trends converge to indicate that for consumers, much of their protection from food-borne illness for a large segment of their meals is less under their control and has been de facto delegated to other individuals and systems. An individual consumer's protection now is vested in regulatory oversight of, and adherence to, good manufacturing practices and sanitation among a complex network of food producers, processors, distributors, and commercial food-service workers.

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