Nearly two-thirds (62%) of consumers who eat out think menu descriptions in some restaurants and takeaways are misleading or lacking in information, a quarter (25%) say this is the case very or fairly often, according to a survey for the Food Standards Agency.

The number of people surveyed who are dissatisfied with the information available (49%) has risen since a similar survey eight years ago when 36% said that they had 'never' found descriptions misleading or lacking in information.

Most people have eaten out in the last six months (91%) with takeaways being the most popular choice. Menus are seen as the most important source of information (90%).

Nearly a third (31%) of those surveyed had asked staff about food ingredients, but the general feedback was that people were reluctant to ask for information for fear of appearing "fussy".

Others did not want too much information about food ingredients, particularly when eating in restaurants, as this was seen as a treat when they liked to turn a blind eye to issues which normally concerned them - except where allergies were concerned.

The size of portions, basic ingredients and the presence of GM ingredients are seen as the key items of interest to people eating out. Some people thought the pictures on menus were misleading with portions not being as big as suggested by the illustrations.

When asked precisely what they would like to know about food they might order people's top five preferences were:

Takeaway

Size of portions 39%
Basic ingredients 38%
If it contains GM ingredients 33%
If fresh/tinned/frozen/dried 31%
Presence of additives 30%

Restaurant/wine bar/pub

Size of portions 36%
If fresh/tinned/frozen/dried 35%
Basic ingredients 35%
Method of cooking 30%
If it contains GM ingredients 29%

GM also featured in the top five things shoppers look for when buying loose foods:

Loose foods

Basic ingredients 34%
If it contains GM ingredients 32%
Presence of additives 32%
Size of portions 29%
Country of origin 27%

Suzi Leather, Deputy Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, said:

"This survey has shown that when most people eat out they don't want to know everything about the food on offer, but they do want accurate descriptions. At the moment they do not always get this information.

"Identification of GM is a real concern for those eating out and shoppers. We also know from our research that people with allergies have very particular concerns about the quality of information they need to eat well and safely. The Food Standards Agency will want to study these results carefully to decide how best to promote consumer choice through improved labelling.

"The most common reason those that eat out avoid particular food is simply if the item is not liked - this being mentioned by two-thirds (64%). Avoiding foods on general health grounds (28%) is a second key reason and just under a quarter (23%) report avoiding GM ingredients.

The Food Standards Agency has begun a survey programme to assess the extent to which GM labelling is being enforced.

Better labelling is a key issue at the Agency's Board meeting on Thursday in Belfast when actions to address these issues will be discussed.

NOTES TO EDITORS

The research was commissioned by the Food Standards Agency and conducted by MORI in June. A nationally representative quota sample of 1,026 adults aged 15+ was interviewed throughout Great Britain. Nine out of ten people interviewed had eaten out in the last six months.

The full Summary Report "Consumer information needs for food sold through catering outlets & loose foods", is available from the Food Standards Agency Press Office