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Doctoral Dissertation Research in DRMS: Improving Food Safety Crisis Communications

Investigators
Hallman, William; Wu, Fanfan
Institutions
Rutgers University
Start date
2015
End date
2017
Objective

The discovery of the contamination of foods products can pose major threats both to public health and to the economic and reputational viability of the companies held responsible. A central tenant of risk communication is to prevent additional public exposures by releasing information as quickly as possible, even when causality or responsibility for the problem is uncertain. However, companies discovering food contamination problems may be reluctant to release timely information, wishing to avoid potential negative publicity or liability. Therefore, a central problem in managing such contamination incidents is how to conduct effective crisis communications that can simultaneously protect public health while minimizing unnecessary or undeserved damage to an organization?s reputation and bottom line.

Despite an increase in the discovery of food contamination problems and their impacts on public health and the economy, research specifically focused on food safety crises and food safety crisis communication is extremely limited. Therefore, this study is designed to test the applicability of a leading crisis communications model, Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT), to the unique circumstances posed by food safety crises. To do so, the study uses two controlled experiments with a representative sample of online participants. The experiments investigate the effects of different types of food safety crises, different crisis communication strategies, and different message framing on public responses to a food safety crisis. The study also extends the SCCT theory by proposing and testing novel sub-categories of food safety crises and crisis communication strategies relevant to food contamination incidents. Finally, the research yields practical recommendations for government and industry regarding how to more effectively communicate about food contamination incidents. In particular, the research highlights communications strategies that may make it possible for companies to release information quickly, without unnecessarily jeopardizing their reputations and future economic viability.

Funding Source
United States Nat'l. Science Fndn.
Project source
View this project
Project number
1530179
Categories
Bacterial Pathogens
Parasites
Natural Toxins
Viruses and Prions
Chemical Contaminants
Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication