U.S. FDA requests comment on consumer research studies

April 28, 2011

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is requesting public comment on two consumer research studies. The first is: "Experiment to Evaluate Risk Perceptions of Produce Growers, Food Retailers, and Consumers After a Food Recall Resulting From a Foodborne Illness Outbreak." Comments are due by June 14, 2011. This study will use an online questionnaire to collect information about the risk perceptions of produce growers, retailers, and consumers regarding fresh produce that has recently been subject to a food recall resulting from a foodborne illness outbreak.

The purpose of this research is to help the FDA better understand whether the magnitude and duration of the decline in commodity consumption following food recalls (i.e., slow market recovery) can be partly explained by grower and retailer speculations and projections about consumer attitudes toward food recalls resulting from outbreaks. The FDA hypothesizes that "over-attribution" of consumers' fears about a food by growers and retailers may be keeping food off the market longer than necessary. "Over-attribution" or "attribution error" is the tendency of people to over-estimate others' negative reactions to a situation.

The second study is: "Survey on Consumers' Emotional and Cognitive Reactions to Food Recalls." Comments are due by May 16, 2011. This online survey will evaluate consumers' emotional and cognitive recollections of certain food recalls, and gauge how these recollections affect their current perceptions about food recalls and their inclination to adhere to future recommended recall behaviors.

Research shows that emotion plays a large role in decision-making and that individuals may not be conscious of this role. Existing data shows that many consumers pay little attention to food recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks, while some consumers overreact to them. The FDA hypothesizes that consumers' emotional reactions to recalls may result in undesirable behaviors. For example, if "a particular food recall engenders widespread anger and the anger is coupled with behavior that is less than desirable from a food safety or nutritional standpoint, it is possible that anger will be the lens through which future food recall situations are viewed, thus resulting in similar undesirable behaviors." The FDA intends to use the findings from this study to better understand consumers' emotional responses to food recalls in order to design more effective recall messages during and after recalls.

Federal Register notice (pdf)

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