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 Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland also aimed to examine differences between the countries, before developing its food information campaigns.


Joy Whinney, Director of the Food Standards Agency in Wales said “It is very reassuring to learn that most people are aware of the dangers of food poisoning and, in particular, appreciate the importance of safe food handling in the home”.


“But the survey also demonstrates there is a widespread ignorance of the need to adhere strictly to “use by” dates”.


Survey results reveal Wales 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.


Wales remains a nation of meat eaters (74 per cent) with chicken the favourite choice. Only five per cent of Welsh households have a vegetarian member.


Knowledge of healthy eating is limited with only a minority of Welsh people aware of the balance of foods they should eat each day and fewer still understand portion sizes required for a healthy diet. Three in every four Welsh consumers eat some frozen or ready-made foods such fish fingers and burgers and chips, with more than one in every three eating these convenience foods ‘regularly’. Two in three people also use ‘takeaways’ such as fish and chip shops and Chinese, Indian or pizza outlets.


There is also considerable concern about the accuracy and meaning of food labelling, showing that manufacturers need to make labels easier to understand and the public needs guidance on what to look for.


This was highlighted by the widespread lack of understanding of the meanings of ‘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.


The most commonly voiced concern was food poisoning, though the majority of people believe food safety has improved over the past year. Most identified raw meat as a potential source of food poisoning. The survey also highlights BSE as an issue of concern for 6 in 10 people.


Though most people believe food safety has improved over the last year, in Wales people are most worried about food hygiene in the following locations: meat stalls in markets (54 per cent), butchers (24 per cent), supermarkets (19 per cent) and the home (20 per cent).


One in ten interviewees in Wales told the interviewer they had suffered vomiting or diarrhoea from food poisoning during the past year.


“The survey’s findings will now be carefully analysed and used in the Agency’s food hygiene campaigns over the coming year, and in developing a nutrition strategy for Wales in association with the National Assembly for Wales”, said Joy Whinney.


NOTE TO EDITORS:


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.


For further details , please contact :


Phil Morgan , Head of Food Safety and Nutrition Policy, Food Standards Agency Wales, 1stt floor, Southgate House, Wood Street,
Cardiff CF10 1EW
Tel: 029 20678913


Email: Phil.Morgan@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk