Food safety is a major concern for retailers, restaurants, consumers and public health. But what happens to reputation and recovery when food becomes tainted? Using notions of overconfidence and self-attribution, this study shows how new and existing consumers react to temporary quality failure and perceived food safety risks. To do this, lunchtime participants were served chicken by a local restaurant that was potentially contaminated. In reality, half of the participants’ chicken had been tainted with fish sauce – a harmless but noxious-smelling ingredient that made the chicken taste somewhat spoiled. Results showed that people decreased consumption when serving themselves the fish-sauce chicken, but would not cease to eat altogether. Interestingly, diners updated their risk perceptions and judgments based on their eating behaviors. The more chicken diners ate, the more favorably they tended to rate the food, suggesting a confirmatory bias. Consumers with previous experience with the restaurant were no better judges of the food probably because of a stronger psychological bias. This study offers an important explanation for why consumers are less responsive to public food safety information than some experts believe is appropriate.
Cognitive dissonance; confirmatory bias; self-compliance; justification; food safety