Is the produce industry its own worst enemy following a foodborne disease outbreak and a recall of tainted produce?

The Food and Drug Administration wants to know if the produce industry may be overestimating consumer reaction to foodborne illness outbreaks and food recalls.

In a Federal Register notice published Oct. 11, the FDA said they are seeking Office of Management and Budget approval for an experiment to “evaluate risk perception of produce growers, food retailers and consumers after a food recall resulting from a foodborne illness outbreak.”

“We hypothesize that industry’s over attribution of consumers’ fear of the food after such a food recall would result in the food being kept off of the market longer than necessary,” the FDA said.

The notice said the research will be used to help evaluate how grower, retailer, and consumer perceptions, attitudes, knowledge, and beliefs affect market recovery after a hypothetical fresh spinach recall.

The notice said the project will test, whether the psychological tendency called ”attribution error” contributes to unnecessarily prolonging the economic effects of a food recall.

“Attribution error,” according to the FDA, is the tendency people have of overestimating others’ negative response to situations compared to their own response.

“If industry decision makers’ measures of consumer response are biased by attribution error, industry could be contributing to its own slow recovery after a food recall,” according to the notice.

While the FDA said growers and retailers want to provide safe foods, decisions about production, wholesale, and retail sales projections in response to a food recall affects how soon the food is again available for consumption.

The agency is accepting comments on the request through Nov. 10.

The study will be conducted under a cooperative agreement between the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and the Center for Risk Communication Research at the University of Maryland, according to the Federal Register.

If the Office of Management and Budget gives its okay, the research will involve use web-based questionnaires of 900 participants — 180 growers, 180 retailers and 540 consumers. The survey will be provided different scenarios related to a food recall. Participants will complete a questionnaire assessing their emotional response, attribution of responsibility, intentions to grow, sell or buy the affected produce and the perceived likelihood of a repeat event.