The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) this week launched a national campaign to lift hygiene standards in catering businesses across the UK.
The campaign, including a multi-million pound media campaign, aims to raise standards across the industry and will target managers of the UK's 370,000 catering businesses with information on how to radically improve standards.
This is the first phase of the Agency's ambitious 5-year UK-wide £20m (€32.7m) Food Hygiene Campaign, which aims to reduce incidents of food poisoning in the UK by 20 per cent by 2006.
The 2001 FSA Consumer Attitudes to Food survey, published this week, reveals that 12 per cent of UK consumers, 5.5 million people, said they had food poisoning in the last year. Almost three-quarters of consumers in the study - approximately 4.2 million - believed their food-borne illness was caused by food prepared out of the home.
The survey further revealed that more than half of all consumers (51 per cent) expressed concern about standards of hygiene in catering outlets, a significant rise in 2001 from 42 per cent in 2000. As a warning to catering outlets, six out of ten consumers who changed their eating habits as a result of a bad experience said they no longer used that food outlet.
Consumers appeared to be particularly concerned about the cleanliness of the premises, staff or kitchen with 72 per cent voicing their concern and one-third of consumers concerned about cross-contamination.
Accurate figures regarding food poisoning in catering outlets are difficult to achieve because many incidences of food poisoning go unreported. Only 24 per cent of respondents who had experienced illness reported it to anyone. Of those who did, the largest single group (14 per cent) went to their doctor, 7 per cent reported it to the outlet where they bought the food, and only 2 per cent reported it to their local council or environmental health officer.
Sir John Krebs, chairman of the Food Standards Agency said: "The Consumer Attitudes to Food survey reveals that the levels of reported food poisoning remain unacceptably high. Most cases are preventable through simple good hygiene practices like washing hands at regular intervals when preparing food.
The Agency campaign offers catering businesses a simple way to clean up their act, win back consumers and reduce incidents of food poisoning."
An initial 250,000 businesses are a key target for the Agency's Food Hygiene Campaign and will all receive campaign information packs.