Who is at risk and what do they know? Segmenting a population on their food safety knowledge

M. McCarthy, M. de Boer, M. Brennan, C. Ritson, N. Thompson, A.L. Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although the public is increasingly concerned about food-related risks, the rise in food poisoning cases suggests that people still make decisions on food consumption, food storage and food preparation that are less than ideal from a health and safety perspective (O'Riordan, N., Cowan, C., & McCarthy, M. (2002). Safety of Irish beef-concerns, awareness and knowledge of Irish consumers. Journal of Food Safety, 22(1), 1-16; Shaw, A. (2003). Public understanding of food risks: expert and lay views. FoodInfo Online, 2-3. Science Central from IFIS publishing. Available from ; FSAI (2004). Report on zoonoses in Ireland 2000 and 2001. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland. Available from ). Consumer knowledge has been cited by many studies as a factor that influences risk assessment and thus behaviour (Frewer, L. J., Shepherd, R., & Sparks, P. (1994). The interrelationship between perceived knowledge, control and risk associated with a range of food-related hazards targeted at the individual, other people and society. Journal of Food Safety, 14, 19-40; Her Majesty's Stationery Office (1995). A guide to risk assessment and risk management for environmental protection, Department of the Environment, HMSO, 77-78; Fife-Schaw, C., & Rowe, G. (1996). Public perceptions of everyday food hazards: a psychometric study. Risk Analysis, 16(4), 487-500). In this paper we report on a quantitative study (n = 1025) that examines knowledge levels about food safety practices, food safety and food science amongst the population on the island of Ireland and identifies food knowledge segments within this population. The findings suggest that the majority of the population of Ireland know what they should be doing in their kitchen from a food safety perspective but they are not, in many cases, following the best practice guidelines and regard less than ideal food handling practices as safe. Furthermore, while food safety knowledge levels were high, the level of food science knowledge was rather low. The segmentation of the sample based on knowledge levels yielded some interesting findings. Four segments were clearly identified by Hierarchical Cluster Analysis and labelled "At-Risk", "Food Safety Conscious" (FSC), "Food Science Knowledge Deficient" (FSKD) and "Informed". The At-Risk segment (13%) were of particular interest as members of this segment clearly have less than ideal food safety practices and when compared with the other segments also have significantly lower knowledge about what they should be doing, about food safety and about food science issues. This segment may require targeted promotions from food safety communicators but, given their demographic profile, effective communication could prove difficult.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-217
Number of pages13
JournalFood Quality and Preference
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2007

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