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Food Safety Less of a Concern in UK Now Than Decade Ago

Food safety concerns in the United Kingdom change slowly over time, but they do change.

Twice a year, the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom fields an opinion survey on food safety. The latest data from May just became available and it shows public thinking about food safety largely unchanged from six months earlier.

For example, the main food safety concern in the UK is “food hygiene when eating out,” which was cited as a concern by 38 percent of the respondents. Food poisoning from Salmonella or E. coli O157:H7 was a concern to 32 percent.

While those numbers are largely the same as those turned six months earlier, over the long haul attitudes are different.

In March 2001, for example, 61 percent of UK citizens were concerned about food poisoning from pathogens. It took over a decade, but that number has been cut almost in half to the current 32 percent.

Restaurants and take-outs might find it helpful to know that respondents decide if an establishment is sanitary based on appearances of the premises (69 percent); appearance of the staff (54 percent), and its reputation (41 percent).

Public awareness of the UK Food Standards Agency is extremely high at 81 percent and an amazing 64 percent trust the agency to do its job. Except for the military, no part of the U.S. government comes any where near those numbers.

The recent roll-out of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme in the UK has resulted in only 20 percent of the respondents saying they’d seen the scores on restaurant doors and just 24 percent said they seen or heard something about it.

The FSA survey tracks “spontaneous concern for respondents” and food safety is now the list which continues to be led by food prices. Salt and fat in food and food waste are almost prominent top of mind concerns in the UK.

Interestingly, dropping to the bottom of the list of food concerns in the UK is Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or the very Mad Cow Disease that once shook the British Isles with fear. For 91 percent of those ages 25 and under, BSE is no longer even a concern.

The latest survey found 44 percent of respondents said they were concerned about food safety in UK shops and supermarkets, while 34 percent said they were unconcerned.

In Scotland, which is breaking off from FSA to set up its own independent agency, 95 percent of the respondents correctly said the agency exists to make sure food being sold is safe. The figure was higher than for England and Wales, but not as high as Ireland, which came in at 98 percent.

Finally, the decrease in concern about food safety is also illustrated by spontaneous mention of food poisoning falling to 5 percent in the current survey, down from 24 percent in March 2003.

© Food Safety News