Assessment Of Consumer Perceptions About Food Processing Technologies For Cooperative Extension Educational Initiatives

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Virginia Tech


New food processing technologies are needed to create safe, high-quality food products that are still considered "fresh" by consumers. Despite the numerous benefits attributed to 'food processing', consumers continue to perceive the term negatively. Consumer acceptance of foods processed with different technologies generally increases when factual information is provided to the consumer. Educators working within Cooperative Extension are a resource for public dissemination of food information. By working directly in the community, Extension educators often cultivate positive relationships with local clientele. Therefore, Extension educators can dispel myths related to food processing technologies and deliver science-supported information to the general public. Consumer knowledge, perceptions, and purchasing intentions associated with both conventional and emerging food processing technologies were assessed through a nationwide telephone survey administered by Virginia Tech's Center for Survey Research Center. A similar version of the telephone survey was disseminated in an online format to Virginia Extension agents. An additional section of the online survey served as a needs assessment for educational materials related to food processing technologies. A grounded theory methodology was used for qualitative coding in both surveys. Approximately 67% of consumers expressed concerns towards the term "processed foods." The majority of Extension agents (67.4%) expressed concerns about foods that had been processed, citing additional ingredients, preservatives, and additives; safety; and health implications. Both the consumer and Extension agent groups were more likely to be supportive of light-exposed foods to enhance food safety and quality, in comparison to gas-exposed foods. Although agents may be familiar with some food processing technologies, they may not have the resources to understand the scientific mechanisms for which a technology is able to increase food safety. Consumer education regarding emerging technologies is necessary to anticipate potential consumer concerns; however, agents still lack resources and information about existing and frequently used food processing technologies. Educational interventions are needed to provide information to consumers and increase their acceptance of new and currently used processing technologies so that the food industry can effectively target emerging issues related to food.



food processing, food processing technologies, food safety, consumer perceptions, consumer acceptance, Cooperative Extension, Extension agents