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Research shows high trust in food safety in Ireland

Wednesday, 07 February 2024

New research shows that consumers believe that food safety in Ireland has improved in the past five years, with some 9 in 10 people considering food in Ireland safe. Comprehensive industry and consumer research undertaken by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) revealed today that overall food safety concerns by the food industry have also reduced due to what the industry perceives as robust regulations combined with their increased knowledge of food safety procedures and robust controls by food inspectors.

The FSAI national attitudinal research shows that the increased costs of doing business are cited by more than 3 in 4 (76%) of food businesses as the top issue affecting the industry and this is followed by concerns over the availability of staff (46%).  The research also highlights that despite increased confidence in Irish food being safe to eat, numerous food safety issues remain for food businesses.  Food allergens, food hygiene and handling, as well as food poisoning rank as the greatest food safety concerns for Irish food businesses, with over a third of food businesses listing these in their top three concerns.

The research was launched today by Minister Hildegarde Naughton, Minister of State with Responsibility for Public Health, Well-being & the National Drugs Strategy at the Department of Health who said: “It is a matter of pride that Ireland continues to be a leader in food safety matters. Our science and evidence-based approach to food safety maintains the integrity of, and trust in, our food chain. It is reassuring that this new research shows that consumers believe that food safety in Ireland has improved in the past five years. I applaud the FSAI for being proactive in undertaking this research - gauging industry and consumer priorities, and ensuring that our food safety systems are geared to meet our future needs."

The FSAI undertook two comprehensive research surveys with both industry and consumers to seek attitudes on food safety, sustainable food, and food safety regulation. Overall, there is strong confidence in food safety measures among industry and consumers, with the industry also acknowledging the importance of food safety regulations in Ireland.

Dr Pamela Byrne, CEO, FSAI stated the research indicates that there is a strong trust in food safety amongst both industry and consumers. She also acknowledged there is some debate about sustainable foodstuffs and a divergence in consumers believing in the need for more food sustainability, but this is not making an impact on their purchasing decisions.  

    “Our research shows that confidence is high in the safety of our food in Ireland, something which is felt both by consumers and businesses, and is a reflection of the high standards in place by all those in the wider food industry. We also note that 3 in 4 businesses see the FSAI as having a role to play in supporting food businesses with food sustainability and in raising awareness of the need to move to more sustainable food production without compromising food safety. There is clear agreement too from consumers that the FSAI has a responsibility, with 7 in 10 (69%) citing that the FSAI should assist them in making more sustainable food choices (69%) and raise awareness of the need to move to more sustainability produced food without compromising food safety (77%).”

   “The research findings also show that whilst sustainable packaging and recycling are areas where food businesses are making significant efforts, there are barriers to more widespread adaption of sustainability in food businesses. The barriers include cost and the fact the food industry perceives that sustainability is a low priority for consumers. This perception is then affirmed by our consumer research findings that even though over three-quarters of consumers cite the importance of food produced sustainably, just two in five consumers actually make decisions about food choices based on how sustainable a food product is,” says Dr Byrne.

The research reveals that some 3 in 5 food businesses claim that their company currently seeks to produce, source, or supply food more sustainably.  Whilst 1 in 5 (21%) businesses expressed that sustainability initiatives make it harder to adhere to food safety regulations, almost 8 in 10 (79%) believe that supplying food more sustainably will have no impact on adhering to food safety regulations. From a sustainability perspective, most consumers, 3 in 4 (76%) say it is important that food is produced in a sustainable way. Whilst 3 in 4 (74%) consumers would like strict deadlines imposed on manufacturers to improve the use of plastic, there was a strong understanding of the importance of packaging  in terms of food safety and authenticity (67%) and preserving shelf-life (63%).  

Other key findings from the food businesses research reveal that overall, there are high levels of confidence in food safety measures for both the Irish food industry and those working in their specific sector, with nearly 9 out of 10 (87%) feeling confident in food safety standards. The industry cited carcinogenic or cancer-causing chemicals as a worry, with 1 in 3 (36%) citing them as a concern, with pesticides and antibiotic residues following close behind.

In terms of consumer trends, the research also found that some 4 in 10 (45%) people prepare meals at home from scratch using fresh ingredients daily and this rises to 7 in 10 (81%) doing so twice or three times per week. Some 3 in 10 (35%) order take away food at least weekly.  Whilst almost 3 in 5 (56%) people check and adhere to use-by dates, a further 2 in 5 (40%) say that whilst they check them, they don’t always follow the product’s expiry dates.

“The FSAI is one of Europe’s first food safety regulatory agencies and over 9 out of 10 consumers in Ireland are aware of our role in protecting them in relation to food safety and that is to be warmly welcomed. Food businesses understand our role too and we will continue to be responsive to their concerns and available to them to advise them on compliance. The FSAI continues to work in partnership with Environmental Health Officers, veterinary inspectors and sea-fisheries inspection officers to ensure that food safety regulations are complied with, and that food produced in Ireland continues to maintain its reputation as being amongst the safest in the world,” concluded Dr Byrne.

*Two research surveys undertaken - a nationally representative sample of key decision makers in food industry and a nationally representative sample of adults in Ireland.  Research undertaken by Behaviour & Attitudes (B&A) between Oct 12th and 6th November 2023.

The national attitudinal research, which was undertaken by B&A with both food industry and service sector stakeholders as well as consumers, sought to examine and understand attitudes, perceptions and issues in relation to food safety and sustainability. Food industry interviewees worked in a range of management roles including food business owners, directors, managers, chefs, assistant managers and training managers. The food businesses ranged across importers, manufacturers, distributors, manufacturers, service sector, and retailers.