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Keywords:

  • Endogeneity;
  • food safety practices;
  • response bias;
  • risk perception

The relationship between risk perception and risk avoidance is typically analyzed using self-reported measures. However, in domains such as driving or food handling, the validity of responses about usual behavior is threatened because people think about the situations in which they are self-aware, such as when they encounter a hazard. Indeed, researchers have often noted a divergence between what people say about their behavior and how they actually behave. Thus, in order to draw conclusions about risk perceptions and risk avoidance from survey data, it is important to identify particular cognitive elements, such as those measured by questions about risk and safety knowledge, risk perceptions, or information search behavior, which may be effective antecedents of self-reported safety behavior. It is also important to identify and correct for potential sources of bias that may exist in the data. The authors analyze the Food and Drug Administration's 1998 Food Safety Survey to determine whether there are consistent cognitive antecedents for three types of safe food practices: preparation, eating, and cooling of foods. An assessment of measurement biases shows that endogeneity of food choices affects reports of food preparation. In addition, response bias affects reports of cooling practices as evidenced by its relation to knowledge and information search, a pattern of cognitive effects unique to cooling practices. After correcting for these biases, results show that practice-specific risk perceptions are the primary cognitive antecedents of safe food behavior, which has implications for the design of effective education messages about food safety.