An essential component of food defence, consumer-focused risk communication strategies related to food terrorism (FT) threats should reflect an in-depth understanding of consumers’ perceptions, priorities, and information needs related to those threats. To support development of communication strategies, we used a mental models approach to risk communication method to design, conduct and analyse 50 semi-structured telephone interviews with US adults. Interviewees generally lacked well-defined mental models specific to FT, and, instead, drew on their perceptions of terrorism in general, accidental contamination, product recalls, and emergency preparedness. Assessments of their personal threat of FT were influenced by their beliefs about the nature of terrorism, their confidence in government and the food system to prevent and respond to terrorism threats, and their personal control over food choices. These qualitative research results support guidance for developing and implementing consumer-focused FT risk communications strategies.
Keywords: food terrorism, agroterrorism, bioterrorism, food defence, risk communication, consumers, mental models, perceptions, information, public health agencies, USA