Purpose - This paper aims to chart the wide range of food scares reported throughout the EU over the period 1986-2006 and explores their impact on EU policy. Design/methodology/approach - There is much extant research that solely investigates the occurrences of specific food scares, however; little emphasis is given to the responses of policy makers. This research aims to narrow this gap in the literature by reviewing the major food scares, which have occurred throughout the EU and the subsequent policy responses. Findings - A number of food scares have dominated media reports over the last two decades, but this study reveals the increasing emergence of rare serotypes of foodborne pathogens, as well as a rising trend of EU-wide contaminant and animal disease-related food scares. Simultaneously, there is evidence of evolution from a product-focused food policy to a risk-based policy, which has developed into a tentative EU consumer-based food policy. Inevitably, in a market of 25 member-states the concept of food quality varies between countries and therein justifies the need for responsive policy development, which embraces the single market philosophy. Research limitations/implications - A typology of EU food scares is advanced and discussed in detail, with comments being made on their impact. In addition, the paper highlights the complexity of a EU consumer, which has led to a need for research into the maximisation of the satisfaction of purchasers by reinsuring their individual "right to choose". Originality/value - This paper provides a unique insight into a wide range of European food scares (e.g. microbiological, contaminants, animal disease-related) and EU policy makers' responses to such food scares.