Food safety experts doubt public understanding

Thursday, 02 March, 2006

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 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.

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