The industry has criticised the government’s approach to a new consumer hygiene campaign on raw vegetables as the Cabinet Office declares the supply chain must take responsibility in promoting food safety advice.
Following E. coli outbreaks in the UK and continental Europe earlier this year, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is launching a campaign that will run only in Scotland, Wales and Northern
Ireland, starting next week at a cost of some £200,000, £100,000 and £125,000 respectively.
The radio and press advertising initiative will not operate in England, however, as the Cabinet Office did not give its approval for the expenditure and has instead put the onus on the industry to promote the safe preparation of its own produce.
“The Cabinet Office’s advice was that this particular campaign would be better communicated by the FSA working in partnership with supermarkets, retailers, trade bodies and producers, who should also take responsibility for the promotion of food safety messages,” said a spokesperson. “We understand that the FSA has met with representatives from the fresh produce industry in England to work together to communicate this important message to the public.”
However, the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) expressed dismay at the government’s stance and said it had not met with the FSA. FPC chief executive Nigel Jenney said: “It’s disappointing to see a disjointed government approach on this, and we look forward to hearing from the FSA regarding how it wishes to work with the industry.”
He said the FSA had told the consortium it would run a campaign in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with advice for consumers on good hygiene, but has not even seen its content. “We understand it will include advice on the storage and preparation of raw vegetables within the context of a broader food hygiene campaign,” said Jenney.
The devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are all funding the campaign through their FSA budgets with endorsement from their ministers for health. In Wales and Scotland, the campaign starts on Tuesday and will run until 18 December. In Northern Ireland, it will run from 5-18 December and again from 2-16 January 2012.
Shoppers’ buying habits were not dramatically affected following the E. coli scare, exclusive FPJ research has indicated.
A consumer survey carried out for FPJ by England Marketing showed only 10 per cent of shoppers stopped buying fresh produce in the wake of the outbreak, with around 15 per cent saying they paid more attention to peeling and washing produce.
A third said their confidence in non-UK produce had been shaken to some extent, with 15 per cent saying the same about UK food.
Only one in five consumers felt that the government overreacted in its advice to the public.