The Food Standards Association (FSA) has revealed that British consumers are becoming more aware of healthy eating and what food labels mean.

The finding emerged from the Agency's second annual Consumer Attitudes to Food Survey, which reflects the views of more than 3000 people across the UK.

The survey showed that consumers are most concerned about issues such as food poisoning, BSE and pesticides. But it also shows that they are increasingly aware of information on food.

Since 2000, the FSA reported that there has been a small increases in understanding of the terms "use by" (33% in 2000 to 40% in 2001) and a small increase in understanding of "best before" (34% in 2000 to 36% in 2001). But in 2001 43% of UK consumers still did not understand the meaning of "80% fat free" and 66% of respondents could not correctly pick the main ingredient from a sample food label.

Levels of concern about food containing GM ingredients have fallen among English consumers, said the FSA, from 25% in 2000, to 17% in 2001 claiming to look for information about GM on food labels.

Food issues

Food poisoning was the largest concern of consumers, cited by 59% of those polled. In second place came BSE at 55% of those polled (down 6%). Animal feed and pesticides came joint third at 50% - up by 4%. Meanwhile, 38% cited GM foods as a specific food worry, down by 5% on the previous year.

Meat continues to worry consumers, 56% mentioned it spontaneously as a particular food safety concern. The number of households with a vegetarian in 2001 was the same as in 2000 (5%).

Eating out, eating in

More than one in three consumers (38%) were shown to dine out at restaurants either regularly or occasionally, topped only by fastfood outlets (38%), and takeaways (49%). Concern about hygiene standards in food outlets (up from 42% to 51% of those polled), underpinned the FSA's campaign to work with the catering industry to improve training and standards.

Healthy eating

There's been a rise in people who say they have improved their healthy eating habits in the past year, but confusion remains over what constitutes a healthy diet.

Nearly half the people surveyed knew that they should eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day - a significant rise on the previous year. At least 70% of people knew that an apple is a portion, however correct answers fell by around 50% once they were asked about the number of plums or tablespoons of vegetables in a portion.