Less than a year after launch, the UK Food Standards Agency has completed a wide-ranging investigation into public attitudes to food safety, shopping and diet.


The Agency, with offices in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland wanted to examine key differences between the countries, before launching a food information offensive.


The survey reveals that Scots are most aware of the Food Standards Agency and its role as an information source and are most likely to see it as independent and unbiased. However, consumers are still concerned by food issues and often confused by healthy eating messages.


Dr George Paterson, Director of the Food Standards Agency Scotland 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 in the UK 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.”


The survey reveals Scotland as a nation where women (83 per cent) are still the main shoppers of the household and 95 per cent of people prefer to buy most groceries from the supermarket.


Despite the BSE crisis, Scotland remains a nation of meat eaters (96 per cent) with chicken the favourite choice. Only three per cent of all Scottish households have a vegetarian member.


Most people (80 per cent) in the UK claim to eat fresh staple foods – dairy products; vegetables, salads and fruit; eggs; fresh meat – but only two-thirds also eat fresh fish.


Unfortunately, most are confused by messages about portion sizes and few have any idea of how much of each healthy food constitutes a healthy diet. Ninety per cent of Scottish consumers admit to eating frozen or ready-made foods such fish fingers and burgers and chips, but only 37 per cent of Scots claim to eat convenience foods ‘regularly’.


Two-thirds of people also use ‘takeaways’ such as fish and chip shops and Chinese, Indian or pizza outlets, despite these generating major concerns about hygiene standards.


Though most people believe food safety has improved over the last year, a significant number of Scots are worried about food hygiene in one or more locations, including: local butchers (24 per cent), supermarkets (18 per cent) and the home (16 per cent).


Many interviewees claimed to have suffered vomiting or diarrhoea from food poisoning during the past year: Scotland 13 per cent, England 14 per cent, Wales 11 per cent and Northern Ireland 10 per cent. Significantly, the age group using ‘takeaways’ least, the 66+ group, also suffered from this the least.


There is also considerable confusion across the UK about the accuracy of information on food packaging, showing that manufacturers need to make labels easier to understand and the public needs guidance on what to look for.


This was highlighted by awareness of the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates. Few interviewees realised that expiry of the ‘use by’ date means that the food might be unsafe and should be thrown away – passing of the ‘best before’ date means that taste and flavour might be compromised, but the food was probably still safe.


NOTES FOR NEWS EDITORS




  1. 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.



  2. 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 total number of people questioned in Scotland was 707.



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



  4. A copy of the full survey results is available on the Food Standards Agency website (www.foodstandards.gov.uk/pdf_files/consumer.pdf).


For further information contact John Booth on 01224 285120 or Louise Bisset on 01224 285127. Out of hours contact: 07699 782183.