- Many consumers feel that using a thermometer to check cooking temps will diminish the opinions others have on their cooking skills.
- Home cooks take the stance they have never acquired a foodborne illness at home and that it will never happen to them.
- Consumers give themselves high passing grades for their own food preparation skills but a lower grade for similar behaviors witnessed at a retail food establishment.
Cognitive Bias & Food Prep
There are several factors involved in mishandling of food by consumers. Most of the barriers to safe food handling are secondary to cognitive biases. Cognitive biases relate to mistakes in reasoning, evaluating and remembering often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.
Routine food preparation in kitchens is a relatively automatic process. It takes cognitive effort to introduce a new method of safe food handling such as using a thermometer to judge whether meat is fully cooked instead of relying on a habitual behavior of assessing by color.
Consumers may defer to other higher authorities in preventing foodborne illnesses in their kitchens assuming that food safety risks have already been minimized.
Some consumers would rather make a risky preference, such as consuming rare meat, if they prefer that taste to fully cooked meat.
A Heavy Price to Pay
Cost benefit miscalculations may come into play if consumers decide that the time and effort required to practice safe food handling is not worth avoiding the possibility of a mild, short lasting foodborne illness.
Some consumers may have a social fear regarding the proper preparation of food. They may feel that new behaviors such as using a thermometer to check cooking temperatures would diminish the opinions others have of their cooking skills.
Many consumers take the stance that since they have never acquired a foodborne illness at home that it will never happen to them. They fail to recognize that pathogens have become more prevalent and virulent throughout the food supply chain before it reaches their kitchens.
This optimistic bias is positively linked with risky behaviors and neglects to take precautionary measures which is related to an increased incidence of accidents and foodborne illness.
What’s interesting is that these same consumers will judge others as being less motivated to practice proper food handling behaviors (blind spot bias).
Many consumers have a false sense of control regarding food precautions in their kitchens. The majority of consumers give themselves high passing grades for their level of safety in food preparation, service and storage in their kitchens. But this high grade is oftentimes considerably lower when evaluated by a retail food establishment food safety evaluation checklist.
Health behavior change programs can provide valuable roadmaps for identifying key constructs to address when aiming to effect behavior change.
Consumers need to recognize their cognitive biases and seek out food safety education programs to help them gain the knowledge, skills, motivation and confidence needed to handle foods more safely and avoid foodborne illnesses arising from their kitchens.
It’s difficult to do, but can you recognize a food-based biases you possess?
Dr. Gary Russotti MD, MS
Idea Boxx – Director of Medical/Biochemical R&D and Regulatory Compliance
- Summarized from: Byrd-Bredbenner, C. et al., “ Food Safety in Home Kitchens: A Synthesis of the Literature”. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2013. 10: 4060-4085.
- Food Safety image obtained from; http://www.health.co.st-clair.il.us/environmental/food/Pages/default.aspx
- Safe cooking temperature image; https://www.cancer.net/blog/2017-04/spring-training-food-safety-kids
- Food Inspection image; https://gcn.com/articles/2015/04/10/food-inspection-database.aspx