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Public Perceptions of Everyday Food Hazards: A Psychometric Study

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Abstract

In this paper, we discuss the conduct and results of a study aimed at eliciting public perceptions of food-related hazards. This study employs the psychometric approach of Paul Slovic and colleagues and aims to extend the recent work of Sparks and Shepherd(1) on defining the primary dimensions of food-related risk perceptions. The study surveyed a nationally representative sample of the general public (respondents = 293; adjusted response rate = 30.1%). Respondents provided ratings on subsets of 22 potential food hazards (e.g., food irradiation and presence of listeria) on a total of 19 risk characteristics (e.g., “perceived severity of risk” and “adequacy of governmental regulations”). In spite of the use of a number of new characteristics and food hazards, Principal Components Analysis revealed a broadly similar factor structure to that obtained by Sparks and Shepherd,(1) suggesting the generalizability of the key dimensions (concerning the severity and awareness of hazards). Interestingly, the positioning in the factor space of potential hazards about which little was generally known (e.g., campylobacter) as being serious and in need of regulation, may suggest a possible “starting position” in the perception of new hazards that have not previously been the subject of risk communications.

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