Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

Food Safety Survey

Purpose

This paper informs Members of the findings of a public opinion survey commissioned by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) to collect views of the public on food safety-related issues.

Background

2. Being the food authority in Hong Kong, FEHD is committed to safeguarding public health by ensuring that food available for human consumption is wholesome, hygienic and safe. To facilitate the planning of our work in this area, FEHD commissioned a research company, Mercado Solutions (Asia) Ltd, to conduct a public opinion survey to gauge public perception of food safety. Field work for the survey was conducted between November and December 2000. The survey covered the following four broad aspects:

(a)    public understanding about the work of FEHD on food safety;
(b) food safety practices of the public with regard to patronage of food premises, purchase of food and preparation of meals at homes;
(c) public perception of the impacts of food hazards on health and the perceived safety of food sold at food premises and retail outlets; and
(d) general views of the public on Genetically Modified (GM) food.

Survey Findings

3. A sample of 2,017 members of the public aged 15 or above were successfully interviewed through the telephone, giving a response rate of 71.4%. The major findings of the survey are summarized in paragraphs 5 to 12 below. Copies of the full report of the survey have been deposited with the Council Secretariat for perusal by Members.

Public Understanding about the Work of FEHD on Food Safety

4. The majority (71%) of the respondents were aware that FEHD was responsible for the control of food safety. Over 60% of the respondents knew that our responsibilities included performing meat inspection at slaughterhouses, conducting inspection and tests on imported vegetables and poultry, and taking food samples from food premises for testing. Television and government homepage were selected as the two most preferred channels for obtaining information about FEHD's work on food safety.

5. A vast majority (89.6%) of the respondents were satisfied (rating at average or above) with the Government's work on food safety. The level of satisfaction on "inspection of vegetables" was highest among the various areas of responsibilities.

Food Safety Practices of the Public with Regard to Patronage of Food Premises, Purchase of Food and Preparation of Meals at Homes

6. Dining out was a common eating habit among the respondents, with 74.2% having patronized food premises at least once or more a week in the past month. As regards the consumption of high-risk food, 38.6% of the respondents indicated that they had consumed sashimi/sushi while 61.1% had consumed shellfish at least once or more in the past month. Sashimi/sushi was more commonly consumed at food premises whereas shellfish was more commonly consumed at homes. For those respondents who had prepared meals at homes in the past month, more than half of them preferred to buy the food from the markets rather than the supermarkets because they considered that the food sold at markets was fresher, cheaper and there was a wider choice of food available at markets.

7. When purchasing pre-packaged food, 87.2% of the respondents indicated that they would check the information contained in the labels. The information being most frequently checked for was the "best before" or "use by" date. However, less than half of the respondents could distinguish between these two terms.

8. Although over 90% of the respondents adopted various measures to minimize the threat of food hazards when preparing meals at home, the results of the survey revealed that knowledge and practice of the public on food safety measures (e.g. storing cooked food at appropriate temperatures, placement of cooked food above raw food in refrigerators, soaking vegetables and shellfish for sufficient time before cooking) could be further enhanced. For example, only 50.2% of the respondents knew that they should put cooked food in the upper part of the refrigerator to avoid cross contamination with raw food.

Public Perception of the Impacts of Food Hazards on Health and the Perceived Safety of Food Sold at Food Premises and Retail Outlets

9. Contamination of food by pesticide residues was considered to be the type of food hazard that had most serious impact on public health, followed by pathogenic bacteria. When asked to rank which party should be responsible for ensuring food safety at homes, 43.1% and 41.2% of the respondents considered that the primary responsibility rested with the government and the food suppliers respectively. Only 11.4% of the respondents indicated that family members were primarily responsible for ensuring food safety at homes.

10. The majority of the respondents perceived that the food sold at various food premises was generally safe, except that 28.8% and 16.0% of the respondents considered that the food sold at the cooked food stalls at roadside and in markets respectively was unsafe. Similarly, the majority of the respondents perceived that uncooked food sold at retail outlets was generally safe, whereas 33.2% considered that the uncooked food sold by hawkers on the streets was unsafe.

General Views of the Public on Genetically Modified (GM) Food

11. Of those respondents (82.5%) who had heard of the term "GM food" before, 34.6% indicated that they were willing to buy GM food and 97.7% indicated that labelling requirement should be imposed on GM food.

Dissemination of Survey Findings

12. The survey findings will be available for public access through various channels. The results of the survey will be uploaded onto the website of FEHD (http://www.fehd.gov.hk) and will be available at public libraries, Communication Resource Unit as well as Health Education Exhibition and Resource Centre of FEHD.

Way Forward

13. The survey findings provide useful reference for the planning of our work on food safety. We will take the respondents' views into consideration in formulating measures to safeguard food and public health. Enforcement and publicity efforts will be strengthened where areas for improvements have been identified. In particular, we will enhance the knowledge of the public on food safety practices through various channels.

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
October 2001

 

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