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DINING FOR SAFETY:
CONSUMER PERCEPTIONS
OF FOOD SAFETY AND EATING OUT
Andrew J. Knight
Michigan State University
Michelle R. Worosz
Auburn University
Ewen C. D. Todd
Michigan State University
This study investigates whether perceptions about food safety are related to how often
consumers eat at restaurants. More specifically, it examines how the following affect the
frequency of eating at restaurants: (a) concern about food safety issues, (b) food safety
performance of restaurants, (c) how often consumers think about food safety, (d) the
belief of having had food poisoning, (e) knowledge about food safety, and (f) sociodemographic variables. Using data from a nationwide telephone survey conducted with 1,014
randomly selected U.S. adults, the results indicated that perceptions of food safety do
influence how often consumers eat at restaurants. Concern about food safety issues,
thinking about food safety, and having experienced food poisoning were related to frequency of dining out. When comparing those who eat at restaurants rarely, occasionally,
and often, most of the significant differences were between those who eat at restaurants
rarely and those who dine out occasionally or often.
KEYWORDS: consumer behavior; dining out; food safety; foodservice; restaurant;
risk perception
Despite food safety inspections at restaurants by public health officials, research
has shown that a significant percentage of restaurants have inadequate food
safety practices (Allwood, Jenkins, Paulus, Johnson, & Hedberg, 2004;
Buchholz, Run, Kool, Fielding, & Mascola, 2002; Mathias et al., 1994; Medus,
Smith, Bender, Besser, & Hedberg, 2006; U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Retail Program Steering Committee, 2000; Walczak, 2000). In addition, restaurants have been implicated as a major source of food-borne illness outbreaks,
which have been linked to a variety of food-borne pathogens and viruses
(Buchholz et al., 2002; Cochran-Yantis et al., 1996; Cotterchio, Gunn, Coffill,
Tormey, & Barry, 1998; Green et al., 2005; Lewis & Salsbury, 2001; Medus et al.,
2006; Rudder, 2006; Wheeler et al., 2005). Food safety outbreaks can be costly
for restaurants in terms of negative publicity, loss of consumer trust, and loss of
Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, Vol. 33, No. 4, November 2009, 471-486
DOI: 10.1177/1096348009344211
© 2009 International Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education
471
472 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
customers as well as public health compliance and legal costs (Grover & Dausch,
2000). The estimated cost for a restaurant associated with a food-borne illness
outbreak is at least $100,000, which includes lost business and wages and medical and lawyer fees (Grover & Dausch, 2000). Additionally, a restaurant can
expect to suffer a 30% reduction in sales following a food-borne illness outbreak
(Grover & Dausch, 2000). Considering the risk of food-borne illness and the
importance of food safety at restaurants, it is surprising that few studies have
examined the relationship between consumer perceptions of food safety and
dining at restaurants. In this study, we systematically investigate whether perceptions of food safety affect how often consumers eat at restaurants.
BACKGROUND
The importance of food safety in the foodservice industry is highlighted by
research showing that most cases of food-borne disease outbreaks have been
linked to the mishandling of food in foodservice institutions or in homes (Greig,
Todd, Bartleson, & Michaels, 2007; Redmond & Griffith, 2005; Williamson,
Gravani, & Lawless, 1992). In addition, trends have shown that meals purchased
away from the home have increased (Buchholz et al., 2002; Carlson, Kinsey, &
Nadav, 2002), with the restaurant industry accounting for a 47.5% share of the
food dollar in 2006 (National Restaurant Association, 2006). This section
reviews previous studies that have examined consumer perceptions of food
safety and how consumer perceptions of food safety have influenced behavior.
Consumer Perceptions of Food Safety at Restaurants
Williamson et al. (1992) found that 33% of respondents indicated that food
safety problems were most likely the result of unsafe practices at restaurants. Of
the 372 respondents in a U.S. national telephone survey conducted in 1993 who
reported that they or someone in their household had contracted a food-borne
illness in the past month, 65% of them believed restaurants were the cause of
their illness (Fein, Lin, & Levy, 1995). Green et al. (2005), in a 2002 telephone
survey of 16,435 randomly selected U.S. adults, asked respondents about their
beliefs concerning sources of gastrointestinal illness. Of those who experienced
vomiting or diarrhea in the month before being interviewed, 22% believed their
illness was related to eating a meal outside of the home. This belief varied by
age, education, experience of illness, and frequency of eating out. Specifically,
respondents who were younger than 33 years, had some college education,
reported having diarrhea but no vomiting, reported not missing work, and had
eaten out in the previous week were significantly more likely to believe that
their illness was because of an outside meal. Consumers who believed they
became ill after eating at a restaurant associated the illness with the timing of
the illness, the appearance and taste of the meal, the property of the meal (e.g.,
spicy, greasy), dining companions also becoming ill, eating foods that they do
not usually eat, and the cleanliness of the restaurant, kitchen, and food workers.
Green et al. (2005) also found that only 8% of ill respondents, who believed that
Knight et al. / DINING FOR SAFETY 473
they contracted their illness from a meal outside of the home, notified the suspected foodservice facility or health department.
Using data from a 2003 mail survey conducted in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada,
Henson et al. (2006) stated that 39% of 321 respondents reported having been
ill after eating at a restaurant. Of those, only 17% had consulted their family
practitioner, and only 7% had reported their illness to a public health official.
Henson et al. (2006) discovered that four factors were related to consumer perceptions of food safety at restaurants. These factors were observed standard of
hygiene (e.g., cleanliness), overall quality of the restaurant (e.g., price, quality
of food, appearance and/or attitude of staff), level of patronage (e.g., number of
people eating in the restaurant, length of time restaurant has been open), and
external information (e.g., reviews, friends/family, inspection notice in window). Of these four factors, cleanliness explained the most variance followed
by overall quality, level of patronage, and external information.
Consumer Perceptions of Food Safety
As evidenced above, few studies have examined consumer perceptions of food
safety at restaurants; however, there is a rather substantial literature on perceptions
of food safety. Most of these studies have examined perceptions of microbial and
technological food risks, including pesticide residues, additives, preservatives,
antibiotics, and hormones. Variables such as knowledge, trust, and sociodemographics have been associated with level of concern about food safety. Knowledge
refers to the level of information a person possesses about a particular risk.
Generally, it is hypothesized that perception of food safety risks decrease with
increasing levels of knowledge (Frewer, Shepherd, & Sparks, 1994; Groothuis &
Miller, 1997; Jordan & Elnagheeb, 1991; Knight & Warland, 2005). It can also be
hypothesized that the type of experience influences risk perception (Knight &
Warland, 2005). For instance, if people believe that they became ill because of
foods consumed at restaurants, they might dine at restaurants less frequently.
The logic behind trust is that people who have higher levels of trust in institutions and systems, such as the food system, will be less concerned with risks and
vice versa (Knight & Warland, 2005). A person, for example, who believes that
restaurants are capable and perform their roles effectively will have lower concerns about food safety. Gender, race, presence of children, age, education, and
income were identified as common sociodemographic variables included in food
safety studies (Brewer & Prestat, 2002; Flynn, Slovic, & Mertz, 1994; Hwang,
Roe, & Teisl, 2005; Jordan & Elnagheeb, 1991; Knight & Warland, 2005; Lin,
1995; Nayga, 1996; Rimal, Fletcher, McWatters, Misra, & Deodhar, 2001; Rohr,
Luddecke, Muller, & Alvensleben, 2005). The significance of sociodemographic
variables varies by the food safety risk and from study to study.
Food Safety Perceptions and Behavior
There are only two known studies on food safety perceptions and consumer
behavior at restaurants. The first, by Reynolds and Balinbin (2003), examined
474 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
the impacts of mad cow disease on in-restaurant behavior in London, United
Kingdom. Reynolds and Balinbin (2003) surveyed 288 restaurant managers
about overall and beef sales in the years following the mad cow disease scare.
The findings in their study were consistent with the broader food safety literature in that food outbreaks and scares can affect consumer purchasing behavior
(Bocker & Hanf, 2000; Herrmann, Sterngold, & Warland, 1998; Mueller, 1990),
which usually results in a pattern of a sharp and immediate decline in sales of
the foods associated with the outbreak followed by a slow and often incomplete
recovery toward previous consumption levels (Bocker & Hanf, 2000). Although
Reynolds & Balinbin (2003) found that beef sales declined in the years following the mad cow disease scare, overall restaurant sales increased, particularly
for restaurants featuring nonbeef items.
The second published study on food safety perceptions and consumer behavior at restaurants by Henson et al. (2006) investigated how consumers perceived
food safety at restaurants and how these judgments affected restaurant choice.
They found that 56% of respondents had stopped eating at a restaurant they had
previously frequented because of food safety concerns; in addition, 48% said
that they had chosen not to eat at a restaurant because of food safety concerns.
Fast food and ethnic restaurants were most often mentioned as restaurant types
for which respondents had particular food safety concerns.
In the case of foods, prior research shows that food safety concerns, particularly
concern about pesticides and chemicals, do affect purchase intention or consumption, at least for some consumers (Byrne, Bacon, & Toensmeyer, 1994; Collins,
Cuperus, Cartwright, Stark, & Ebro, 1992; Estes & Smith, 1996; Norris, Cuperus,
& Collins, 1991; Rimal et al., 2001; Schafer, Schafer, Bultena, & Hoiberg, 1993;
Wessells, Kline, & Anderson, 1996). Similarly, willingness-to-pay studies suggest
that consumers are willing to pay more for products that are perceived to be safer
or to be of lower risk (Baker & Crosbie, 1994; Eom, 1994; Huang, 1993; Latouche,
Rainelli, & Vermersch, 1998; Rohr et al., 2005; Roosen, Fox, Hennessy, &
Schreiber, 1998; Yeung & Morris, 2001). However, Rimal et al. (2001) claim that
there is a gap between level of concern about food safety and food consumption
habits, and this gap is related to education; the gap decreases with higher education
levels. Knowledge about food safety and trust in the food system also influenced
whether consumers altered their food purchasing habits. Respondents with higher
levels of knowledge of food safety and those with lower levels of trust in the food
system were less likely to alter their food purchase patterns (Rimal et al., 2001).
Hypotheses
Based on the review of previous literature on perceptions of food safety and
consumer behavior, we will test two overarching hypotheses in this study.
Hypothesis 1: Whether perceptions about food safety issues are related to the frequency of eating at restaurants, which can be stated in five subhypotheses:
Hypothesis 1a: Respondents who are more concerned about food safety will eat at
restaurants less frequently than those who are less concerned about food safety.
Knight et al. / DINING FOR SAFETY 475
Hypothesis 1b: Respondents who have higher levels of trust in restaurants will eat at
restaurants more frequently than those with lower levels of trust.
Hypothesis 1c: Respondents who think about food safety more often will eat at restaurants less frequently than those who think about food safety less often.
Hypothesis 1d: Respondents who believe that they have had food poisoning will eat
at restaurants less frequently than those who do not believe that they have had
food poisoning.
Hypothesis 1e: Respondents with higher levels of knowledge about food safety will
eat at restaurants more frequently than those with lower levels of knowledge.
Hypothesis 2: Whether the sociodemographic characteristics of consumers are related
to frequency of eating at restaurants.
Following the food safety literature, we expect that vegetarians and vegans, the
presence of someone with food allergies, someone with a child younger than
6 years and/or an elderly person in their household, older respondents, those
with lower levels of education, and those with lower incomes will be less likely
to eat at restaurants.
METHOD
The data for this study were gathered in a nationwide telephone survey in the
48 contiguous U.S. states and conducted with 1,014 randomly selected U.S. adults
aged 18 and older between October 31, 2005, and February 9, 2006. Because of
the damage sustained by Hurricane Katrina, affected counties in the Gulf of
Mexico, including the city of New Orleans, were omitted from the sample design.
To insure the inclusion of both listed and unlisted telephone numbers, randomdigit dialing procedures were used. Two calling protocols were used. For the
first protocol, the traditional standard of a minimum of 12 call attempts to contact sample members was employed or until a final disposition was determined;
similar to the traditional protocol, cases in the second protocol were randomly
assigned to be called at different times of the day and days of the week, but each
case received only a single call attempt. The cooperation rate for the traditional
protocol was 42% and 67% for the one-call protocol for a total cooperation rate
of 52%. The use of two protocol procedures did not significantly affect either
the composition of respondents or the responses of respondents. Results were
weighted to reflect the sociodemographics (age, sex, race, and education) and
geographic regions (Northeast, Midwest, South, and the West) of the U.S.
population using the 2000 census data.
Ideally, ordinal regression would be the preferred statistical technique to
preserve the ordinal nature of the dependent variable. However, the assumption
that the relationships between the independent variables and the logits are the
same for all the logits (parallel lines) was violated (p ≤ 001), so a decision was
made to treat the dependent variable as categorical or nominal data. Multinomial
logistic regression was used to evaluate the relationships between perceptions
of food safety, sociodemographics, and frequency of eating at a restaurant.
476 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
Dependent Variable
The dependent variable, frequency of eating at a restaurant, was measured by
asking respondents “About how many times a week do you eat at a restaurant?”
Response categories were 1 = everyday, 2 = several times a day or a week, 3 =
about once or twice a week, 4 = less than once a week, and 5 = never. To aid in the
interpretation of the data analysis, the dependent variable was recoded into three
categories, where 1 = frequently (by adding together “everyday” and “several times
a day or a week” responses), 2 = occasionally (about once or twice a week), and
3 = rarely (by adding together the “less than once a week” and “never” categories).
Independent Variables
Six food safety variables were included in the analysis. First, concern about
food-borne illness was measured by combining two questions. Respondents
were asked, “Are you concerned about food-borne illnesses, such as Salmonella,
E. coli, or Listeria, in the foods you eat?” If respondents answered “yes,” they
were asked the follow-up question: “And would you say that you are very concerned, somewhat concerned, or a little concerned?” The responses to these two
questions were recoded into one variable, where 1 = very concerned, 2 = somewhat concerned, 3 = a little concerned, and 4 = no, they were not concerned.
Second, the same procedures were followed for concern about additives and
preservatives. Respondents were also asked to rate their level of concern with
two other food safety issues: (a) pesticide and chemical residues on fruits and
vegetables and (b) antibiotics and hormones. These two variables were moderately correlated with each other, and they were correlated with concern about
food-borne illnesses and additives and preservatives. Additionally, they were
not significantly related to the frequency of eating at restaurants, so these two
variables, concern about pesticides and chemicals and concern about antibiotics
and hormones, were removed from the final models presented in this article.
The third variable trust was measured by asking respondents: “How would
you rate the performance of restaurants in making sure the foods you eat are
safe?” where the response categories were 1 = a very good job, 2 = a good job,
3 = neither a good nor poor job, 4 = a poor job, and 5 = a very poor job. Fourth,
to gauge how important food safety was to respondents, they were asked,
“Would you say you think about food safety?” The response categories were
1 = everyday, 2 = several times a week, 3 = once in a while, 4 = hardly at all,
or 5 = never. Because of the ordinal nature of this variable, it was treated as
categorical in the analysis with “everyday” being the reference category. Fifth,
experience was assessed by asking respondents whether they thought that they
had had a case of food poisoning within the past year (“no” was the reference
category). Sixth, perceived knowledge was measured by asking respondents to
rate their knowledge about food safety, where 1 = a lot, 2 = quite a bit, 3 = a
little, and 4 = not much at all.
Nine sociodemographic control variables were included in the models:
whether the respondent was a vegetarian or vegan, whether anyone living in
Knight et al. / DINING FOR SAFETY 477
their household was allergic to foods, whether there were any children younger
than 6 in the household, and whether there was anyone 65 years or older in the
household. For all these variables, the response categories were “yes” or “no,”
with “no” serving as the reference category. In addition, age was measured by
interval by asking respondents “In what year were you born?” The year provided by the respondent was then subtracted from 2005 or 2006, depending on
the calendar year of the interview. The interviewers recorded the sex of the
respondent with females acting as the reference category. Race was measured
by asking respondents to describe their race or ethnicity with Caucasian/White
serving as the reference category and the other categories being African
American/Black, Hispanic, and Other. Education was measured by asking
respondents: “What is the highest level of education you have completed?”
Education was then recoded into four categories (less than high school, high
school, some college/technical diploma, and bachelor’s degree or higher) to best
conceptualize the various educational categories and to be consistent with previous studies. The reference category was bachelor’s degree or higher. Income
was measured by initially asking respondents whether their total annual household income in 2004 was $30,000 or more. Depending on their answer, they
were then asked whether their total annual income was more or less than
another threshold number. This threshold technique was used to increase
responses to a sensitive issue such as income. The eight income thresholds
ranged from “less than $10,000” to “$70,000 or more.” For the purposes of this
analysis, income was recoded into four categories (less than $20,000,
$20,000-$39,999, $40,000-$59,999, and $60,000 or more), with the reference
category being “$60,000 or more.” Descriptive statistics for the independent
variables are presented in Table 1.
RESULTS
About 18% of respondents stated that they eat at a restaurant often (“everyday” or “several times a day or a week”); 43% indicated that they dine out
occasionally (about once or twice a week); and 39% said that they rarely eat out
(“less than once a week” or “never”). The multinominal logistic regression
results are presented in Table 2. Three multinominal regression models are
shown in this table. The first model examines differences between eating at
restaurants occasionally and often; differences between eating at restaurants
rarely and often are portrayed in the second model. Differences between eating
at restaurants rarely and occasionally are illustrated in the third model. For
Model 1, “occasionally” serves as the reference category. In both Models 2 and
3, “rarely” is the reference category.
The results in Model 1 show that there were few significant differences bet­
ween those who eat at restaurants occasionally and often. The only food safety
variable that was statistically significant was thinking about food safety, where
respondents who think about food safety hardly at all were more likely to eat at
a restaurant more often than those who think about food safety everyday. Males
478 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
Table 1
Descriptive Statistics for Independent Variables (N = 787)
Mean/
Percentage
Standard
Deviation
Food safety variables
1. Concern about food-borne illness
2.183
1.134
2. Concern about additives and preservatives
2.662
1.224
3. Performance of restaurants
2.460
0.932
4. Think about food safety (Everyday [reference])
33.2%
a. Several times a week
14.8%
0.355
b. Once in a while
37.2%
0.484
c. Hardly at all
12.6%
0.332
d. Never
2.2%
0.145
5. Had food poisoning (No [reference])
92.0%
a. Yes
8.0%
0.268
6. Knowledge
2.350
0.883
Sociodemographics
7. Vegetarian or vegan (No [reference])
88.0%
a. Yes
12.0%
0.327
8. Allergic present (No [reference])
73.0%
a. Yes
27.0%
0.444
9. Child present (No [reference])
75.0%
a. Yes
25.0%
0.435
10. Elderly present (No [reference])
79.0%
a. Yes
21.0%
0.407
11. Age
43.196
16.702
12. Sex (female [reference])
53.0%
a. Male
47.0%
0.500
13. Education (Bachelor’s degree [reference])
26.7%
a. Less than high school
4.9%
0.216
b. High school
37.8%
0.485
c. Some college/technical diploma
30.6%
0.461
14. Race (White [reference])
74.0%
a. African American
10.5%
0.307
b. Hispanic
11.6%
0.320
c. Other
3.9%
0.194
15. Income ($60,000 or more [reference])
37.6%
a. Less than $20,000
13.7%
0.344
b. $20,000-$39,999
22.5%
0.418
c. $40,000-$59,999
26.2%
0.440
Range
1-4
1-4
1-5
0-1
0-1
0-1
0-1
0-1
1-4
0-1
0-1
0-1
0-1
18-96
0-1
0-1
0-1
0-1
0-1
0-1
0-1
0-1
0-1
0-1
were more likely than females to eat at a restaurant often, and Hispanics were
less likely than White respondents to eat at a restaurant often.
The findings, however, change in Model 2, which looks at differences
between eating at restaurants rarely and often. Four food safety variables—concern
about food-borne illness, concern about additives and preservatives, thinking
about food safety, and whether the respondent believed he or she had food
poisoning—were related to frequency of eating at restaurants. The likelihood of
eating at a restaurant often decreased with level of concern about food-borne
479
B
Exp(B)
B
Exp(B)
Model 2 (Often);
Rarely (Reference)
B
(continued)
0.290
0.888
0.692
0.354
0.826
0.970
1.003
0.986
2.167
2.789
0.916
1.837
0.523
4.087
1.192
0.665
1.365
0.984
Exp(B)
Model 3 (Occasionally);
Rarely (Reference)
Food safety variables:
1. Concern about food-borne illness
0.101 (0.122)
1.106
−0.306* (0.130)
0.736
−0.408*** (0.101)
2. Concern about additives and preserva®tives −0.034 (0.107)
0.967
0.278* (.115 )
1.320
0.311*** (0.086)
3. Performance of restaurants
−0.043 (0.124)
0.958
−0.060 (0.134)
0.942
−0.017 (0.105)
4. Think about food safety (Everyday [reference])
a. Several times a week
0.441 (0.356)
1.554
1 .466*** (0.398)
4.333
1.026*** (0.311)
b. Once in a while
0.240 (0.434)
1.271
0.152 (0.357)
1.164
−0.088 (0.255)
c. Hardly at all
0.822* (0.401)
2.275
1.430*** (0.438)
4.180
0.608 (.357)
d. Never
0.918 (0.982)
2.504
0.270 (0.869)
1.309
−0.648 (0.738)
5. Had food poisoning
0.536 (0.377)
1.710
1.944*** (0.492)
6.988
1.408*** (0.430)
6. Knowledge
−0.229 (0.137)
0.795
−0.054 (0.146)
0.948
0.175 (0.114)
Sociodemographics
7. Vegetarian or vegan
0.136 (0.410)
1.146
−0.903* (0.404)
0.405
−1.039*** (0.300)
8. Allergy present
0.038 (0.296)
1.038
−0.154 (0.305)
0.858
−0.191 (0.226)
9. Child present
0.058 (0.290)
1.059
0.027 (0.313)
1.027
−0.031 (0.237)
10. Elderly present
−0.159 (0.355)
0.853
−0.156 (0.369)
0.855
0.003 (0.270)
11. Age
−0.001 (0.009)
0.999
−0.016 (0.010)
0.984
−0.014 (0.008)
12. Sex (female [reference])
0.672** (0.238)
1.958
1.445*** (0.251)
4.244
0.774*** (0.187)
13. Education (bachelor’s degree [reference])
a. Less than high school
0.290 (0.769)
1.337
−0.948 (0.731)
0.387
−1.238* (0.586)
b. High school
0.224 (0.299)
1.252
0.106 (0.324)
1.112
−.118 (0.245)
c. Some college/technical diploma
0.173 (0.310)
1.189
−0.194 (0.329)
0.823
−.368 (0.246)
Variable
Model 1 (Often);
Occasionally (Reference)
Table 2
Results of the Multinomial Logistic Regression Model Estimation for Frequency of Eating at Restaurants (N = 787)
480
B
Exp(B)
B
Exp(B)
Model 2 (Often);
Rarely (Reference)
B
Note: Standard errors in parentheses.
*p ≤ .05. **p ≤ .01. ***p ≤ .001.
0.567
0.591
0.938
0.874
13.823
0.744
Exp(B)
Model 3 (Occasionally);
Rarely (Reference)
14. Race (White [reference])
a. African American
−0.223 (0.426)
0.800
−0.358 (0.437)
0.699
−0.135 (0.309)
b. Hispanic
−2.217*** (0.548)
0.109
0.410 (0.708)
1.506
2.626*** (0.503)
c. Other
0.827 (0.514)
2.285
0.531 (0.536)
1.701
−.295 (0.499)
15. Income ($60,000 or more [reference])
a. Less than $20,000
0.811 (0.431)
2.250
0.244 (0.445)
1.276
−0.567 (0.370)
b. $20,000-$39,999
−0.154 (0.332)
0.857
−0.680* (0.346)
0.507
−.526* (0.252)
c. $40,000-$59,999
−0.011 (0.300)
0.989
−.076 (0.318)
0.927
−.064 (0.237)
Constant
1.290 (0.776)
−.947 (0.822)
0.343 (0.625)
Cox and Snell R2
0.300
−2 log likelihood
1313.784***
Variable
Model 1 (Often);
Occasionally (Reference)
Table 2 (continued)
Knight et al. / DINING FOR SAFETY 481
illness and increased with level of concern about additives and preservatives. In
other words, respondents with higher levels of concern about food-borne illness
were less likely to eat at a restaurant often than those with higher levels of concern. Those with higher levels of concern about additives and preservatives
were more likely to eat at a restaurant often than those with lower levels of
concern. Additionally, respondents who think about food safety “several times
a week” or “hardly at all” were more likely to eat at a restaurant often than those
who think about food safety everyday. Food poisoning had the opposite effect
than expected. Those who believed that they had food poisoning within the past
year were more likely to eat at a restaurant often than those who did not believe
that they had food poisoning. Three sociodemographic variables were significantly related to frequency of eating at restaurants. Vegetarians and vegans were
less likely to eat at restaurants often. Males were more likely to eat at a restaurant often than females, and those with incomes between $20,000 and $39,999
were less likely to eat out often than those with incomes $60,000 or greater.
Differences between eating at restaurants rarely and occasionally are presented in Model 3. The results are similar to those in Model 2 with a few exceptions. First, the significance levels (p values) are more pronounced for some
of the variables such as concern about food-borne illness and concern about additives and preservatives. Second, two additional sociodemographic variables were
significant. Respondents with less than a high school education were less likely
to eat at a restaurant occasionally than those with at least a bachelor’s degree, and
Hispanics were more likely to eat at a restaurant occasionally than Whites.
DISCUSSION
This article’s primary purpose was to investigate whether consumers’ perceptions of food safety influence the frequency of dining at restaurants. The
findings show they do but not always in predictable ways. The most striking
differences were between those who eat at restaurants rarely (less than once a
week) and those who dine occasionally (once or twice a week) or often (at least
several times a week). There were few significant differences between respondents who eat out occasionally and those who eat out often. As hypothesized,
concern about food safety issues, thinking about food safety, and having experienced food poisoning were related to frequency of dining. However, the
relationships between level of concern about additives and preservatives and
having experienced food poisoning had the opposite effect than predicted;
respondents who had higher levels of concern about additives and preservatives and those who believed that they had experienced food poisoning reported
that they were likely to eat at restaurants. Considering that those who were
more highly concerned about food-borne illness were more likely to eat at
restaurants rarely, one would have expected the other food-borne illness measures to act in a similar fashion.
Contrary to our expectations, only four sociodemographic variables were
significantly related to eating at restaurants in at least two of the three models,
482 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
controlling for food safety variables. In all three models, males were more likely
to eat at restaurants more often than females. Vegetarians or vegans were more
likely to eat at restaurants rarely than meat eaters. Future research might examine why vegetarians or vegans reported eating at restaurants less frequently,
especially when more restaurants are offering vegetarian dishes. Compared with
White respondents, Hispanic respondents were more likely to eat occasionally
at restaurants. Finally, respondents with incomes between $20,000 and $39,999
were more likely to eat rarely at restaurants than respondents with annual household incomes $60,000 or greater.
An explanation for the unpredicted findings may lie in the wording of the
questions. For example, the question about experiencing food poisoning did not
specify whether the respondent believed that he or she became ill from eating at
a restaurant. Thus, respondents may not have associated food poisoning with
restaurants. Another explanation is that even if a respondent did associate his or
her food poisoning with restaurants, it could be that consumers will only change
their purchasing habits at that particular restaurant. The frequency of dining at
restaurants in general might not change, but the pattern of patronage may
change as consumers eat elsewhere (Henson et al., 2006; Reynolds & Balinbin,
2003). Both these explanations require further research. A final explanation is
that food-borne illnesses may cause a short-term decline in eating out, but consumer patterns may return to previous levels over a period of time (Bocker &
Hanf, 2000). In the case of concern about food additives and preservatives, it
may be that consumers associate restaurants with serving fresh foods; thus, they
may think that additives and preservatives are not used in foods served in restaurants. This hypothesis also requires further research.
Surprisingly, the food safety performance of restaurants was not significantly
related to frequency of eating at restaurants, which is contrary to the findings of
previous research (Henson et al., 2006). Our performance variable may not be
capturing the key aspects of food safety as outlined by Henson et al. (2006). In
their study, cleanliness was the most often cited attribute used by consumers to
determine food safety at restaurants; respondents in this study may have interpreted “performance” differently. Still, the findings reinforce the importance of
establishing and enforcing food safety protocols at restaurants. To reassure customers, it may be beneficial for restaurants to publicize their food safety records
and strategies such as employee training or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control
Points (HACCP) programs. Aside from the limitations of some measures,
another limitation of this study was that distinctions were not made between
fast-food and sit-down restaurants or other types of restaurants, for example,
chains, independent, and ethnic.
The findings in this study suggest that more research is needed in this area
including how, when, and why consumers associate illness with food purchased at restaurants and how purchasing habits change with those associations. Furthermore, food safety variables need to be included in consumer
preference studies. When a consumer makes a decision whether to patronize
Knight et al. / DINING FOR SAFETY 483
a restaurant, it is likely that food safety is only one of several attributes considered; other attributes might include the appearance, nutrition, taste, convenience, brand, price of foods, previous experiences, and recommendations by
others, as well as the restaurant’s atmosphere, entertainment value, location,
and reputation (Auty, 1992; Gregory & Kim, 2004; Stewart, Blissard, &
Jolliffe, 2006). Although this study provides a step in this direction, future
research should expand on our research and that of Henson et al. (2006) to
understand how consumers perceive food safety at restaurants and to investigate which food safety issues are most salient to them. In particular, there is a
need to delineate the effects of food safety and other preferences on consumer
behavior.
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486 JOURNAL OF HOSPITALITY & TOURISM RESEARCH
Submitted January 12, 2007
First Revision Submitted April 27, 2007
Final Revision Submitted December 6, 2007
Accepted May 20, 2008
Refereed Anonymously
Andrew J. Knight, PhD (e-mail: [email protected]) is a Senior Planing and Development
Officer in the Industry Development & Business Services branch of the Nova Scotia
Department of Agriculture. Michelle R. Worosz, PhD (e-mail: [email protected]
edu), is an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural
Sociology at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama. Ewen C. D. Todd (e-mail: [email protected]
msu.edu) is a Professor in the Department of Advertising, Public Relations & Retailing
at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.
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