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How Do Consumers Attitudes to Food and Food Safety Change?

05 February 2015

A survey of consumer food and food safety habits in England has shown that just over half have changed their food buying habits in the last six months for financial reasons.

Food and You surveyThe survey, the third phase of the UK’s Food Standard Agency Food and You survey, provides information on reported behaviours, attitudes and knowledge relating to food issues in 2014.

The Food and You survey is published once every two years.

In this phase of the survey 3,453 interviews were conducted with a representative sample of adults aged 16 and over across the UK. In total 1,951 interviews were conducted in England.

Eating, Cooking and Shopping

Around six in ten respondents (59 per cent) reported that they cooked or prepared food for themselves every day. Women were more likely to report preparing food for themselves (74 per cent) and others (54 per cent) on a daily basis compared with men (44 per cent and 18 per cent respectively).

Those aged 16-24 were less likely than older respondents to report cooking for themselves every day (43 per cent compared with 62 per cent of those aged 25 and over).

Those aged 16-24 (18 per cent) and 75 and over (24 per cent) were less likely than respondents aged 25-74 (41 per cent) to report cooking for others on a daily basis.

Four per cent of respondents reported that they were allergic to certain food.

Of these, 65 per cent said they had seen a doctor about their allergy and 38 per cent said that it was clinically diagnosed.

This amounts to two per cent of respondents overall, who reported having a clinically diagnosed food allergy. In total 12 per cent of respondents reported living in a household in which someone had a food allergy (not necessarily clinically diagnosed).

Respondents were most likely to report having learnt to cook from a family member
(73 per cent) with 56 per cent saying this was the main way they had learnt.

Around a quarter (24 per cent) reported that their cooking was mainly self-taught.

There was greater variety in the main ways respondents reported having learned about food safety: 35 per cent reported learning about food safety from family and friends, 28 per cent reported being self-taught, 14 per cent learnt at school and 12 per cent on a course.

While respondents were most likely to report currently finding information about food safety from family and friends (38 per cent), food TV shows (34 per cent) and product packaging (30 per cent), they were most likely to say that, in the future, they would use internet search engines to find information on food safety (reported by 49 per cent of respondents).

The proportion using internet search engines at present (18 per cent) was higher than at in the second survey (15 per cent).

The proportion of respondents saying they would use a number of sources in the future was lower than in the second survey, particularly product packaging (13 per cent compared with 21 per cent in the second survey) and a range of printed media.

Over half of respondents (57 per cent) said their household did a ‘main’ food shop on a weekly basis and 87 per cent said large supermarkets were used for their household’s main shopping trip.

Around a quarter (27 per cent) relied solely on large supermarkets for their household’s food shopping.

Women were more likely than men to say they were responsible for all or most of their household’s food and grocery shopping (67 per cent compared with 32 per cent).

Respondents were most likely to report usually buying raw meat that was fresh
(93 per cent) rather than frozen (32 per cent), not specifically free range or organic (72 per cent) and prepackaged (76 per cent).

This was most likely to be from a large supermarket (71 per cent) although 26 per cent reported usually buying meat from an independent butcher.

Overall, 53 per cent of respondents this third survey said that they had made at least one change in their buying or eating arrangements in the last six months for financial reasons, compared with 62 per cent in the second survey.

Reports of a number of changes in buying or eating arrangements in the previous six months for financial reasons differed between the first and second surveys, but these differences were not found between the first and the third surveys.

Food Safety in the Home

The extent to which reported food safety practices were in line with Food Standards Agency recommendations varied depending on the type of practice.

Eight in 10 respondents (80 per cent) reported cleaning behaviours in line with recommended practices, saying they always washed their hands before starting to prepare or cook food and after handling raw meat, poultry or fish.

Half (50 per cent) of those who reported storing raw meat and poultry in the fridge reported practices in line with those recommended to avoid cross contamination.

This meant that they reported storing raw meat and poultry separately from ready-to-eat foods and in sealed containers or at the bottom of the fridge.

Three quarters (75 per cent) reported keeping certain foods in certain parts of the fridge, and, of these, 76 per cent said this was for reasons of food safety, hygiene, or to stop cross contamination.

Other behaviours that risk cross contamination were also explored.

Around half of respondents (49 per cent) said they always used different chopping boards for different types of food.

Forty per cent of respondents reported that they never washed raw meat or poultry, excluding chicken, and 35 per cent said they never washed raw chicken.

Just over half of respondents who had a fridge (53 per cent) said the fridge temperature should be between 0°C and 5°C (the recommended temperature). In total, 12 per cent of respondents who had a fridge reported behaviour in line with recommended practice for chilling (i.e. checking that their fridge temperature is between 0°C and 5°C, at least monthly, using a thermometer).

Almost half of respondents who had a fridge (47 per cent) reported never checking their fridge temperature.

Around half of respondents (48 per cent) reported generally leaving meat or fish to defrost at room temperature, which is not in line with recommended practice for defrosting food.

The majority of respondents reported cooking food until it is steaming hot throughout (82 per cent) in line with recommended practice.

Ninety-two per cent of respondents reported that they never ate chicken or turkey if the meat was pink or had pink or red juices, compared with 88 per cent in the first survey.

The majority said they would reheat food no more than once (90 per cent), in line with recommended reheating practice.

Around three quarters of respondents (73 per cent) reported that they would eat leftover food within two days of cooking it, in line with recommended practice.

Six in 10 respondents (60 per cent) reported behaviours in line with FSA recommended practice for use by dates, stating that the use by date is an indicator of whether food is safe to eat, and that they checked the date when they were about to cook or prepare food.
As in the first and second surveys, women were generally more likely than men to report food safety practices in line with recommended practice. For example, women were more likely to report always washing their hands before preparing food (89 per cent) and after handling raw meat (91 per cent) compared with men (79 per cent and 81 per cent respectively).

Women were also more likely to report always cooking food until it is steaming hot throughout (90 per cent compared with 74 per cent of men) and always checking use by dates before cooking or preparing food (69 per cent compared with 60 per cent).

Women were, however, more likely than men to report (ever) washing raw chicken (59 per cent compared with 49 per cent) and were less likely to report the fridge temperature should be below 5°C (47 per cent compared with 59 per cent).

Younger respondents (aged 16-24) and the oldest respondents (aged 75 and over) were less likely to report some practices in line with recommended practice compared with the other age groups (e.g. hand washing, food storage, and use of use by dates). Similar findings were observed at previous waves of the survey.

Eating Outside the Home

As in the second survey, 75 per cent of respondents reported eating out or buying food to take away in the last week, compared with 68 per cent in the first survey.

Around one in 10 respondents (11 per cent) reported eating out six times or more in the last week.

When asked what was important to them when deciding where to eat out, 66 per cent of respondents said that the cleanliness and hygiene of eating establishments was important.

Three in 10 said a good hygiene rating was important (30 per cent), compared with 24 per cent in the first survey and 26 per cent in the second survey.

Good service (57 per cent), recommendations and reviews (49 per cent) and price (49 per cent) were also selected as important factors when deciding where to eat out.

Women were more likely than men to say that cleanliness and hygiene were important when deciding where to eat (70 per cent compared with 62 per cent of men).

Forty-five per cent of respondents who ate out said that food was less safe when eating out compared with eating at home.

While 73 per cent of respondents said they were aware of standards of hygiene when eating out, 15 per cent said they were not.

Reported awareness of hygiene standards when eating out was lowest among those aged 16-34 (65 per cent), and highest among those aged 65 and over (83 per cent).

Respondents were most likely to report judging the hygiene standards of food establishments from their appearance (55 per cent) and the appearance of their staff (40 per cent).

Around two-fifths (43 per cent) said they used a hygiene certificate or sticker to judge hygiene standards, compared with 33 per cent in the first survey and 28 per cent in the second survey.

Twenty three per cent of respondents specifically citied using a sticker in the current survey, compared to nine per cent in the first survey and 13 per cent in the second survey.

Around three-quarters of respondents (76 per cent) reported having seen the stickers and certificates belonging to different food hygiene rating schemes, compared to 55 per cent in the second survey.

Recognition of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) in England and Northern Ireland was higher than in the second survey, with 65 per cent of respondents in England recognising the scheme compared with 33 per cent in the second survey.

The vast majority of those respondents who recognised the FHRS certificate or sticker said they had seen it in the window or door of a food establishment (91 per cent).

Overall, 20 per cent of respondents reported having used a hygiene rating scheme in the past 12 months to check an establishment’s rating before deciding to eat there, compared with 10 per cent in the second survey.

Amongst these respondents using a scheme, 77 per cent said they had used the information in the establishment’s door or window, compared with 90 per cent in the second survey.

Twenty-six per cent reported that they had checked the rating on the internet, compared with 15 per cent in the second survey. Of those who had used a scheme,
90 per cent said they found it helpful.

Food Poisoning and Attitudes towards Food Safety and Production

As in both the first and second surveys, two-fifths of respondents (40 per cent) reported experiencing food poisoning in the past. Of those who reported having food poisoning in the past year, 19 per cent said they had visited a doctor or gone to hospital as a result, and 12 per cent said that their food poisoning had been medically diagnosed. As a consequence of having had food poisoning, 33 per cent reported that they had stopped eating at certain food establishments.

Men were more likely than women to report having food poisoning more than once
(21 per cent compared with 14 per cent).

Around three-quarters of respondents (77 per cent) agreed with the statement ‘I am unlikely to get food poisoning from food prepared in my own home’ and this was higher than the proportion in the first survey (72 per cent).

Twenty-three per cent agreed that ‘it is just bad luck if you get food poisoning’, compared with 28 per cent in the first survey.

As in previous surveys just over four in 10 respondents (42 per cent) agreed that ‘if you eat out a lot you are more likely to get food poisoning’.

Three-quarters of respondents (75 per cent) agreed with the statement ‘restaurants should pay more attention to food safety and hygiene’, compared to 82 per cent in the first survey.

The proportion of respondents saying they always avoid throwing food away was
58 per cent compared to 52 per cent in the second survey and 48 per cent in the first survey.

As in the second survey, respondents were more likely to express concern about food imported from outside the UK (65 per cent) than about food produced in the UK (43 per cent).

Reported concerns about both were higher in the present survey than in the second survey (when 61 per cent and 35 per cent of respondents reported concern about these issues respectively).

Greater concern was reported about meat than about fruit and vegetables: 66 per cent of respondents said they were concerned about imported meat (compared with 62 per cent in the first survey) and 39 per cent that they were concerned about meat produced in the UK (compared with 34 per cent in the first survey), while 42 per cent said they were concerned about imported fruit and vegetables and 26 per cent about UK produced fruit and vegetables.

December 2014

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