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