Toward a better understanding of food fears

From the grocery aisle to the TV dial, wildly innaccurate and false health and safety claims about foods and their ingredients serve to scare consumers away from many products and ingredients. Researchers at Cornell University have investigated this phenomenon more closely.

The new Cornell University study, “Ingredient-based food fears and avoidance: antecedents and antidotes” published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, investigated food fears – why people have them and what can be done to correct misconceptions.

“MSG, gluten and high fructose corn syrup are just a few of the ingredients that have received a lot of negative attention in recent years,” said Aner Tal, post-doctoral researcher at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. “While some ingredient food fears are justified by objective evidence, others have unnecessarily damaged some industries.”

The research unveiled four key findings about those who avoid specific ingredients:

• They are more likely to receive their information from the internet rather than television
• They had a desire to have their food-related opinions known by their friends or reference group
• Feared ingredients mainly hurt evaluation of foods that they perceived as relatively healthy rather than of foods that they perceived as unhealthy
• Those with a fear of a specific ingredient may exaggerate and overweigh perceived risks

The researchers also found food fears may be offset when an ingredient’s history, background, and general usage are effectively communicated.

“Learn the science, history, and the process of how the ingredient is made,” said Brian Wansink, lead author and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. “You’ll be a smarter, savvier consumer if you do.”

A short video of Brian Wansink explaining the research, as well as an informational graphic and additional details of this research can be found at,