Integrating perspectives on consumer perceptions of food safety, nutrition and waste

ESRCOn 16th April the 2nd in the series of ESRC funded seminars on Food Options, Opinions and Decisions (FOOD) took places at the Food Standards Agency in London. The aim of the series is to understand and improve UK consumers’ decisions about nutrition, food safety, and domestic food waste.

It takes place within the following context:

  • In the UK, foodborne illnesses cause 20,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths per year.
  • Food safety warnings can cause undue alarm, increase food waste, and undermine healthy choices.
  • UK domestic food waste is 7 million tonnes per year, of which 4.2 million tonnes is deemed preventable.
  • Perishable foods are more nutritious but may affect food safety and food waste.
  • Unhealthy eating is contributing to 62% of UK adults being overweight or obese.

Discussions focused notably on domestic food waste and its inter-relationship with food safety and health.

Matteo VittuariProf. Matteo Vittuari from the University of Bologna presented an overview of the research into food waste and campaigns to address food waste in Italy in relation to European policies. This explored the impact of food cultures, income, retail practices and the proximity to primary food production, i.e. agriculture, on domestic food waste. See presentation:

Julie BarnettProf. Julie Barnett from the University of Bath then looked at the intersections in consumer sense-making and related behaviour based on risk management and personal health psychology. She used horsemeat fraud and nut allergy case study material to illustrate the implicit and explicit links people make when shopping. Her findings suggest that the relationship between safety, health and risk management where not necessarily predictable. Her conclusions implied that if food policy is to better address health, safety, waste and sustainability, a much more sophisticated understanding of consumer health psychology is needed. See presentation:

Tom QuestedThe presentations concluded with Dr Tom Quested from WRAP discussing the reasons behind the seven million tons of domestic food waste, how this dwarfed the 200 000 tons of supermarket waste, and some simple effective strategies individuals and companies can employ to reduce domestic food waste. The holistic analysis considered influencing behaviours including food planning, buying, storing, preparation, as well as people’s use of leftovers and the value they attach to food. For further details of work in this area see:

This led to a panel discussion that began to explore the mutually beneficial impact effective food waste management could have on nutrition, food safety and sustainability. It would appear that there are a range of simple actions we could take to have a multiple positive outcomes in all areas, but consensus and long-term support for this argument is yet to be achieved.

The seminar series co-ordinators would welcome the participation of more practitioners, and local actors. For more details of this series see:

The next seminar in the series will be Food choice, nutrition interventions and implications for waste:
Speakers: Prof. Paul Rozin (University of Pennsylvania); Prof. Louise Dye (University of Leeds) and Prof. Peter Jackson (University of Sheffield).
Location: University of Newcastle. Date: 07/07/2015.


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