(Sept. 18, 5:12 p.m.) A consumer survey released Sept. 17 by the Produce Safety Project says 75% of consumers see serious problems with food safety in the produce industry, and nearly 70% want mandatory regulations.

Sources in the produce industry didn’t object to the study’s findings, but they did object to a statement from project director Jim O’Hara, who likened buying produce at grocery stores to gambling at a casino.

“I thought the supposition that consumers were rolling the dice on their family’s health when they shop in the produce department was reckless and irresponsible,” said Hank Giclas, vice president of science and technology for Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers. “When you start off like this, your credibility comes into question.”

Giclas said Western Growers is a proponent of national food safety programs with mandatory practices based on risk. However, he said the survey and its accompanying release is presented in a way that “is almost fear-mongering.”

“We are trying to get people to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables to lower their risk for a host of chronic diseases,” Giclas said. “Suggesting they can’t erodes public health.”

The survey was conducted as an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts at Georgetown University.

“I would have expected much more from a group with this background than needless scare tactics designed more to inflame than inform,” Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, PSP’s inflammatory press release seems more driven to scare consumers, rather than contribute to a rationale dialogue about how government and industry can work together to make a safe food supply even safer.”

Stenzel, like Giclas, said his organization supports federal oversight of food safety, including commodity-specific, risk-based standards for domestic and imported produce.

The national survey was conducted in late July and early August — during the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak — and includes results from 1,002 registered voters.

Asked how much they had heard about fresh produce contaminated with bacteria, 53% of respondents said they had heard “a great deal.”

Asked how much they worry about produce being contaminated with bacteria, 22% of those polled said “a great deal,” and 35% said “somewhat.”

Asked if the produce safety systems need to be altered, 36% of respondents called for a complete overhaul, while 39% called for significant changes.

For complete survey results, go to www.producesafetyproject.org.