Perspectives on Food Safety - A Review of Ethnographic Studies


This report brings knowledge from ethnographic and other relevant social sciences sources to inform the design of EatSafe's intervention and evaluation methods. It examines prior research on food safety-related topics using ethnographic and related methods, then uses the results to glean insights for the design of EatSafe research and intervention activities. By amassing a range of prior focused ethnographic studies on food and nutrition topics and undertaking a targeted search for other studies using similar methods, EatSafe identified a total of 35 relevant studies. The review revealed the following key findings:

  • Consumers have strategies to mitigate food safety risk, but these strategies are not equally available to everyone in a population;
  • Gender is a fundamental determinant of food safety beliefs and behaviors, including differential risk;
  • Traditional food markets are just one source of risk among many faced by consumers;
  • New messaging (on food safety and other topics) is perceived and evaluated in concert with other information circulating in the social and media environment;
  • Specific circumstances exist in which individual agency is expanded and food safety-promoting behaviors can be more readily adopted;
  • Vendors may face personal or business-related risks in situations involving food safety, which could provide incentives for them to act; and
  • Ethnographic methods are well-suited to examining the topic of food safety perceptions and that the resulting data may be valuable if the investigation is focused on specific foods. 

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