Residents of Florida rank food safety as one of their top concerns, preceded only by the economy and healthcare, a new survey conducted by the University of Florida (UF) has revealed.

Researchers gauged public perception of 15 issues covering a wide range of topics and food safety emerged as the third most important, with 85 percent of respondents defining it as extremely or highly important. Food production practices came in at number nine, with 74 percent of those polled listing them as either extremely or highly important. Genetically modified products were ranked second from last, with just over half of respondents believing the matter to be of importance.

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The results showed that many Floridians lack basic knowledge about food safety. For instance, close to three in four respondents thought that frozen fruit and vegetables were safe, while 60 percent believed that canned fruits and vegetables could be described as such. The same proportion of consumers thought that raw produce was safe, but in fact frozen and canned foods are much safer than raw products, said Doug Archer, associate dean for research for UF/IFAS.

Commenting on the findings, Tracy Irani, director of the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education, said that the research identified specific areas on which Florida consumers needed to be educated, so that the gap between their perception and reality is closed.