The increase in public concern regarding food hazards and decline in public trust in food risk regulators suggests that there is a need to identify the actual concerns held by the public regarding specific food hazards in order to develop effective risk communication. In this paper we report the findings of semi-structured interviews, using the laddering technique, that aimed to identify the concerns held by the public with regard to five specific food hazards (BSE, genetic modification of food, high fat diets, pesticide residues in food and Salmonella food poisoning). It was found that most of the identified characteristics and concerns were unique to specific food hazards, though some were shared. The findings were supported in a validation study using a more representative sample of the public. The discussion argues that risk messages addressing these specific concerns will be more relevant to the public than general messages, which may lead to more effective risk communication.