Food hazard characteristics and risk reduction behaviour: The view of consumers on the island of Ireland

M. McCarthy, Mary Brennan, C. Ritson, M. De Boer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This article aims to explore the risk characteristics associated with food hazards on the island of Ireland and to assess how the public deal with perceived risks. Design/methodology/approach: A qualitative investigation involving 12 focus groups was conducted on the island of Ireland. Content analysis was undertaken, with the assistance of the qualitative software tool QSR N6. Findings: Four hazard categories (lifestyle, (bio)technological, microbiological and farm orientated production) were identified and the risk characteristics and risk relieving strategies associated with these hazards were explored. The risk perceptions of respondents were consistent with those defined by the psychometric paradigm. The risk characteristics of knowledge, control, dread, harm to health, freedom of choice, ease to identify were all mentioned, but their importance differed greatly depending on the hazards. For example, in the case of lifestyle hazards, personalisation of the risk, and thus dread, occurred when the individual had a health scare, while with microbiological hazards, knowledge and familiarity resulted in increased confidence in ability to cope with the hazard in the home. The media was noted as having an influential role in individual risk assessment. Finally, changing lifestyles were seen as contributing to increasing the level of exposure to food risks among the population. Further investigation into the sources and consequences of these changing lifestyles is required to guide future food policy. Research limitations/implications: The number of focus group conducted and the qualitative nature of the research limits the degree to which generalised conclusions can be drawn. Originality/value: These results provide a deeper qualitative understanding of risk perception issues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875-891
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Food Journal
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006


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