Public concern about food safety in the United Kingdom has declined based on results of a survey by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Results released from May this year show 41 percent of respondents were concerned about food safety in U.K. restaurants, pubs, cafes and takeaways and 37 percent had concern about food safety in shops and supermarkets.

These results compare to 43 percent of people having concern about food safety in restaurants, pubs, cafes and takeaways and 40 percent being concerned about food safety in shops and supermarkets in a previous survey from November 2018.

The public attitudes tracker survey monitors changes in consumer attitudes to food related issues and includes people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A representative sample of 2,150 adults in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were interviewed face-to-face in May.

Food poisoning knowledge
Top food safety issues of concern for those surveyed were food hygiene when eating out, chemicals from the environment, such as lead, use of pesticides to grow food and food poisoning. Hormones, steroids and antibiotics in food, genetically modified food, how meat is produced in the U.K. and BSE were other topics raised.

Salmonella and E. coli were the most commonly known types of food poisoning with awareness of 90 percent and 84 percent respectively. Awareness of norovirus increased by nine percentage points since the previous survey in November 2018, from 50 percent to 59 percent.

Almost eight in 10 reported being most likely to get food poisoning from raw chicken or turkey. Just more than half said shellfish is a possible source of food poisoning and 49 percent said reheated takeaway food can be a source. Other suspected sources included eggs, unwashed vegetables or salad, cooked sliced meats, pre-prepared sandwiches, bread and frozen vegetables.

Awareness of food poisoning sources has remained stable throughout previous surveys. Most respondents reported no one in their household consumes raw milk, with only 7 percent saying someone living with them does.

Three quarters of people indicated cooking food thoroughly would help them avoid food poisoning and almost two thirds said washing fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly would help. Less than half said not washing raw chicken and heating leftovers until they are steaming hot would help avoid food poisoning.

Give consumers ability to vote with their feet
Statistics show the food hygiene rating scheme (FHRS) is being increasingly used to assess such standards. The public’s use of hygiene stickers in businesses has gone to 66 percent compared to 60 percent in the previous research from November 2018.

Most respondents were aware of the hygiene standards in places they eat out at or buy food from. The most commonly reported ways of knowing about these standards were via food hygiene ratings stickers and general appearance of the premises.

Angela Towers, head of the Food Hygiene Ratings Team at the FSA, said the system gives consumers information to make informed decisions about where they eat out and enables them to vote with their feet.

“We are pleased to see continuing increased use of the scheme, which further highlights a need to make the information it provides more accessible in England through mandatory display of hygiene ratings. This has been successful in Wales and Northern Ireland and we remain committed to seeing this introduced in England,” she said.

Businesses in England are not legally required to display FHRS compliance stickers, while in Wales and Northern Ireland it is mandatory. There are six levels of hygiene ratings from zero, meaning urgent improvement is necessary, to 5, which means very good compliance.

The case to extend mandatory display to England is being finalized by the FSA for ministerial consideration and government approval. This will also look at providing food hygiene ratings online.

Meanwhile, the FSA has launched a consultation seeking views on revised guidance on how to comply with the law in relation to the home slaughter of livestock.

This is the slaughter of a livestock animal by its owner on their property for own personal consumption or that of members of the immediate family living there.

Guidance has been updated to reflect the changes to animal welfare rules in Council Regulation (EC) 1099/2009 on protection of animals at the time of killing. Comments can be submitted until Oct. 28, 2019.

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