The concern of consumers about food safety in the United Kingdom has gone up based on results of a survey by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Findings from November this past year show 45 percent of respondents had concern about food safety in U.K. restaurants, pubs, cafes and takeaways and 40 percent were concerned about it in shops and supermarkets.

This compares to results in May 2019 when 41 percent of people were concerned about food safety in U.K. restaurants, pubs, cafes and takeaways and 37 percent had concerns about this topic in shops and supermarkets.

The public attitudes tracker survey monitors changes in attitudes to food related issues and includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A representative sample of 2,101 adults in these countries were interviewed face-to-face in November. The methodology of the survey will be changing in the future with an increased sample in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Top food safety issues for those surveyed were chemicals from the environment, such as lead, in food, food hygiene when eating out, use of pesticides to grow food and food poisoning. Other topics of concern were hormones, steroids and antibiotics in food, Genetically Modified (GM) foods and food not being what the label says it is.

Public thoughts on food poisoning
Awareness of Salmonella is at 92 percent and 86 percent for E. coli. Awareness of norovirus at 60 percent and Listeria at 61 percent have increased by 8 and 15 percentage points since November 2017.

More than four in five people thought they were most likely to get food poisoning from raw chicken and turkey, followed by shellfish at 57 percent and reheated takeaway with 50 percent. Other suspected sources included eggs, unwashed vegetables or salad, cooked sliced meats and pre-prepared sandwiches. Almost one in five reported bread and frozen vegetables as a possible source.

Most people (93 percent) said no one in their household consumes raw milk. A total of 4 percent reported they consume it themselves and 1 percent said children in their household drink it.

Almost four in five respondents indicated cooking food thoroughly would help them avoid food poisoning and two thirds said preparing different food types on different surfaces and chopping boards would help avoid illness. More than 60 percent also said washing fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly, following storage instructions on labels, and eating food by the use-by date would protect against sickness.

Half of respondents reported not always following instructions on the packaging of frozen vegetables and more than a quarter rarely or never did this. When preparing frozen fruit, 38 percent of people did not always follow instructions and 22 percent said they rarely or never do.

Hygiene and allergens
Half of respondents reported always being aware of the hygiene standards in places they eat out at or buy food from, and a third said they were sometimes aware. Of those that were aware of standards, 64 percent said this was because of stickers and certificates and 60 percent cited general appearance of the premises.

People were most concerned about food waste (57 percent), amount of sugar in food (53 percent), animal welfare (50 percent), and food prices (44 percent).

More than four in 10 were not aware of any rules, regulations or legislations around allergens and a third were not sure.

A total of 79 percent felt confident in asking for allergen information in restaurants. Concern about availability of food allergen information increased since the previous survey by 13 percentage points to 16 percent.

Two thirds took no action when they noticed a food recall alert, whilst 17 percent checked to see if they had the product, 13 percent passed information on to others and 8 percent avoided buying the product in the future.

Almost 80 percent of respondents were aware of the FSA. Of these, two thirds agreed the FSA is fighting food fraud and half said the agency is good at explaining food safety and the science behind it. A total of 69 percent of respondents agreed there is a high likelihood of the FSA taking action to protect the public if there was a food poisoning outbreak.

If new evidence about food safety came to light, 55 percent said there is a high likelihood that the FSA would tell the truth about it to the public and 58 percent said the agency would respond as soon as possible.

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