Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


The principal objective of this thesis was to descriptively and empirically assess shellfish consumption hazards in the state of Rhode Island and to evaluate the use of a shellfish hazard warning label to modify unsafe consumptive behaviors. To accomplish this task, three research problems were examined using a survey instrument. The survey instrument was a questionnaire which included both closed and open-ended questions. The survey questions were designed to identify four primary research variables; shellfish consumptive behaviors, consumer knowledge of shellfish hazards and related government advisories, perceptions of risk regarding personal shellfish consumption, and response to warning label information. The first research problem involved determining whether the consumptive behaviors of Rhode Island shellfish consumers placed them at risk of contracting shellfish-related illnesses. Based on the survey results, it was concluded that the majority of respondents consumed shellfish in an unsafe manner. In addition, it was determined that nearly half of high-risk respondents, who suffered from pre-existing health conditions which increased susceptibility to food-borne illness, also practiced unsafe consumptive behaviors. The second research problem involved determining whether statistical relationships existed between respondents' consumptive behaviors, their knowledge of risks and their perceptions of personal risk. It was determined that a statistically significant relationship existed between: 1) consumer knowledge levels and consumption of lightly steamed shellfish, and 2) consumer knowledge levels and perceptions of risk. The lack of a relationship between raw shellfish consumption and either consumer knowledge or risk perception indicated that consumers may be unaware of the serious nature of potential consumption hazards. The third research problem involved determining the potential influence of point-of-sale shellfish warning labels on consumer behaviors. It was found that nearly two thirds of the study population and over eighty-five percent of high-risk consumers would modify their unsafe behaviors after reading a sample warning label. However, only three to five percent of respondents stated that they would stop consuming shellfish altogether. The research results suggested that a potential public health problem existed within the state of Rhode Island. It was recommended that the RIDOH institute a pilot shellfish=hazard education program in an attempt to mitigate unsafe consumptive behaviors and to fulfill responsibilities towards public health. This program would also inform consumers that shellfish are a wholesome and nutritious food when properly cooked.