The UK Food Standards Agency has launched a new nationwide campaign to tackle what it claims are inadequate hygiene standards in catering businesses across the country.
The campaign will target managers at the UK's 370,000 catering businesses and will provide information on how to improve standards via a multi-million pound television, radio and print advertising campaign.
This agency said this was the first phase of its five-year Food Hygiene Campaign, which aims to reduce incidents of food poisoning in the UK by 20 per cent by 2006.
The campaign comes hot on the heels of the latest edition of the Consumer Attitudes to Food survey which 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 these people believed their food-borne illness was caused by food prepared out of the home.
The survey also shows that 51 per cent of consumers are concerned about standards of hygiene in catering outlets, up from 42 per cent in 2000, while 72 per cent of consumers' concerns were about cleanliness of the premises, staff or kitchen. One-third of consumers were concerned about cross-contamination, while there was a sharp increase in the level of concern about mobile food outlets - 29 per cent compared to 18 per cent in 2000.
The FSA said that many incidences of food poisoning go unreported, with only 24 per cent of respondents who had experienced illness reporting it to anyone.
The catering sector is by far the largest employer in the food industry, with the UK's 370,000 catering businesses employing approximately two million people. But many provide a less-than-healthy service: the most recent statistics from July 2001 reveal that 118,555 restaurants and catering premises broke some food safety rules.
The FSA's campaign will focus on four clear messages, urging catering employees to wash their hands and keep them clean, to avoid cross contamination of foods, to chill food properly and to cook food properly.