The high number of food scares in the UK over the last few years has been blamed for the findings of a Food Standards Agency (FSA) report, which found that 78% of consumers were concerned about food hygiene, and 52% were not confident about the food safety measures currently in place.

The revelations, which are sure to now prompt an investigation into industry standards, have come after a UK-wide survey of consumer attitudes. Chairman of the FSA, Sir John Krebs, admits that the number of consumers confident in food safety measures "is an unacceptably low figure."

A further 43% of those questioned were concerned about GM foods, and 37% were worried about the presence of antibiotics in their meat. Only one in twenty households is home to a vegetarian, however.

The report also discovered that while urban dwellers were more likely to voice concerns over food safety issues in retailers and restaurants, they were also the more likely to be struck by food poisoning.

Food poisoning not reported

The report suggests that while 63% worried about it, five million Brits suffered from food poisoning last year alone, but failed to report the incident to a doctor or the food outlet responsible. Just one fifth of those affected told anybody at all. In England, 14% of people experienced vomiting or diarrhoea due to food poisoning last year, together with 13% of Scots, 11% of Welsh and 10% of respondents in Northern Ireland, all figures that are causing concern to food safety officials.

Food scares blamed

Food scares over the last twenty years were largely blamed for the lack of consumer confidence, and the results provided a challenge for the FSA, which came into being only six months before the survey was launched. Krebs said: "[The report] highlights consumer concerns on food poisoning and BSE."

"Both are priorities for the FSA over the next five years," he promised.
 
BSE still an issue

BSE was still a major concern for three out of every five respondents (61%), particularly with regard to the general practices within abattoirs and butchers. On the whole, consumption of beef is on the rise again in the UK, however.

Hygiene at home isn't up to scratch

Despite all the worries consumers have about eating out, the FSA has discovered it still has much work to do in educating the public on food safety at home. Some 57% of people do not know to eat five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables each day, and of the 43% that do, less than half had done so the day before they were questioned.

Furthermore, less than half of UK consumers had a fridge thermometer and only 61% knew the correct temperature for storing food. And only just over half of the people questioned bothered to check best before dates on the food they ate.

Onus is on entire industry to restore confidence

Krebs said that it was up to the entire food industry to implement changes and renew consumer confidence: "The responsibility for change rests with everyone involved in the food business." He added however that there is some hope for the situation: "Almost half of consumers think that food safety has improved over the last year, so there are real improvements taking place."