Food experts say public has inadequate understanding of food risk issues

A recent study shows that food safety experts have little confidence in the public's understanding of food risk issues. The study is published in the Journal of Food Safety.

Researchers surveyed 400 food safety experts in Ireland to determine what they think about the public's understanding and knowledge of food risk issues, including factors such as what they think contribute to this knowledge as well as the gaps in understanding, and how they feel this could be rectified.

The experts believe that the public under-assesses the risk associated with some bacteriological hazards that are prevalent and overestimate the risks posed by hazards with low prevalence such as mad cow disease. They noted that the level of education and age were important determinants for the level of understanding of risk issues and messages, but also were of the view that the media tend to communicate information that is misleading.

"Public perception of risk is very different from scientists' understanding of risk, hence the meaning and response to 'risk' differs between the public and scientists," say researchers.

The experts surveyed suggest that early intervention via school curricula is the best method to improve understanding of food risk messages in the long term. Furthermore, because the media has the ability to improve awareness and knowledge on these issues, these experts would be interested in training on how to interact with the media.

The implications of this research affect the development for future food risk communication policy, in particular how food safety experts are involved in the process, both directly and indirectly, add researchers. Further research is needed to explore more deeply the role food safety experts should play in food risk communication.


This study is published in the Journal of Food Safety. Media who would like a PDF of this paper should contact [email protected].

Corresponding author of the study Mary McCarthy, BSc, MBA, PhD of the Department of Food Business and Development at the University College Cork in Ireland, is available for questions and interviews at [email protected] or + 353 21 4902075.

About the Journal
The Journal of Food Safety emphasizes mechanistic studies involving inhibition, injury, and metabolism of food poisoning microorganisms, as well as the regulation of growth and toxin production in both model systems and complex food substrates. It also focuses on pathogens which cause food-borne illness, helping readers understand the factors affecting the initial detection of parasites, their development, transmission, and methods of control and destruction.

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