The Food Standards Agency today launches the first of its annual investigations into public attitudes to food safety, standards, nutrition, diet and shopping.

The Consumer Attitudes to Food survey reveals the views of more than 3,000 people across the UK and the issues that really matter to them. Carried out only six months after the Agency was created, survey results show the greatest level of concern is over food safety issues and reveal widespread confusion among consumers about food labelling.

Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency said “This survey reveals the food issues that matter most to consumers and is a valuable contribution to the continuing public debate on food safety. It highlights consumer concerns on food poisoning and BSE. Both are priorities for the FSA over the next five years.”

“The survey highlights that less than half of consumers are confident about current food safety measures. It may be a reflection of two decades of food crises but it is an unacceptably low level. The responsibility for change rests with everyone involved in the food business. Almost half of consumers think that food safety has improved over the last year, so there are real improvements taking place.”

“The FSA will continue to champion measures to improve food safety and consumer confidence. After less than a year of its existence the FSA has started to earn the trust of consumers.”

Food safety and hygiene

Three quarters of the UK population say they are fairly or very concerned about food safety. More than two-thirds (69%) are particularly concerned about the safety of raw meat. More people are concerned about raw chicken (54 per cent) than raw beef (53% per cent)

Two-thirds of people in the UK occasionally or regularly visit takeaways or fast-food restaurants. However, standards of hygiene in takeaways and fast food outlets were a matter of concern for nearly 50 per cent of those interviewed.

  • Food poisoning and BSE are the food safety issues causing most concern.

  • Less than half (48%) were confident about current food safety measures. Although 48 per cent thought food safety had improved over the last year.

  • 78 per cent are worried about food hygiene in a variety of locations: meats stalls in markets (56 per cent), butchers (25 per cent), supermarkets (21 per cent) and the home (19 per cent).
    Food poisoning

Incidences of food poisoning seem to be much larger than official figures would suggest: 80 per cent who suffered what they considered to be food poisoning did not report it to anyone

  • Incidences of vomiting or diarrhoea from what was believed to be food poisoning in the past year were: England 14 per cent, Scotland 13 per cent, Wales 11 per cent and Northern Ireland 10 per cent. The oldest (66+) age group suffered least (3 per cent), compared to 20 per cent of those aged 26-35. The figures suggest that as many as 5 million people in the UK may have had some kind of food poisoning in the last year.

  • Only one in five of sufferers reported it – and those that did were far more likely to report it to their GP rather than the suspect food outlet.

Food Labelling

Despite the ‘best before’ or ‘use by date’ being the information most looked for on food labels, only a third of UK consumers understand them correctly. Consumers were also typically confused over ‘Fat free’ labelling and lists of ingredients.

  • 59 per cent regularly check food labelling and, of these, 67 per cent focused on the best before/use by date, with cooking and storage instructions the next most scrutinised (46 per cent).

  • However only a third knew what to do with products that had either exceeded a best before or use by date.

  • 25 per cent found food labelling ‘difficult to understand. A third of this group were in the 50-65 and 66+ age groups.

Healthy Eating and Nutrition

Although many people are aware of advice on healthy eating, there is a significant difference between what people know and what they do.

Of the 43 per cent who were aware of the advice to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day only half actually did so the previous day.

Less than half of those questioned are aware of the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables. The majority also has an inaccurate idea of the recommended portion sizes.

Eating Habits

Despite concerns about BSE and food poisoning, we are still very much a nation of meat eaters, with only 1 in 20 UK households including a vegetarian.

  • 90 per cent eat fresh meat – with chicken being the favourite.

  • 5 per cent of households included a vegetarian and 7 per cent had someone ‘mainly’ vegetarian.

  • 80 per cent ate some convenience food with frozen or packaged foods being more popular than ready-made meals.

Shopping habits

Supermarkets dominate the market, with local shops only widely used by the oldest (66+) age group. Only 1 per cent of shoppers use the internet or local markets for shopping.

  • 79 per cent of respondents responsible for food shopping are women

  • 94 per cent of consumers buy most of their food from supermarkets
    Food Standards Agency

The survey confirms the need for an independent food body to reassure consumers on food safety and standards.

  • 90 per cent of consumers thought the Agency should use its powers to intervene on issues within its remit. Of those that had received information from the Food Standards Agency, 75 per cent felt that the information or advice given was fairly/very reliable.

  • When made aware of the Food Standards Agency, nearly 50 per cent thought it was the Agency’s job to set food standards, but only a quarter realised it also enforced standards – 52 per cent viewed the Agency positively.


The nation-wide survey was commissioned in October 2000 in order to provide the Food Standards Agency with a clear understanding of consumer attitudes to food safety and food standards.

Interviewing was conducted face-to-face with respondents in their home. The final report is based on total 3153 interviews across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Food Standards Agency was created by an act of Parliament on 1 April (2000). Offices are in London, Aberdeen, Cardiff and Belfast.

Click here to view the full report