Consumers are risking food poisoning by ignoring food label use-by dates in the recession, according to a survey from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Researchers found that a third of people were more likely to judge when food is safe to eat by its smell, look or how long it’s been stored, rather than the ‘use-by’ date.
Bob Martin, food safety expert at the FSA, said: “It’s tempting to just give your food a sniff to see if you think it’s gone off but food bugs such as E.coli and salmonella don’t cause food to smell off, even when they may have grown to dangerous levels. So food could look and smell fine but still be harmful.
“These dates provide helpful information on how long food will stay safe for, so it’s very important you stick to the ‘use-by’ date. Other dates marked on foods focus less on food safety. The ‘best before’ date relates to food quality and can be treated more flexibly, while ‘display until’ dates are there to help shop staff manage stock.”
In the research, 97% of those questioned believed the cost of their typical shopping basket has gone up significantly in the past three years, with 47% trying to make better use of leftover food.
However, some people are ignoring ‘use-by’ dates more than they used to. Others are keeping leftovers for longer than the recommended limit of two days in the fridge.
Today (June 11) is the start of Food Safety Week, and the FSA is reminding people not to take risks with food safety, even as budgets are squeezed.
Martin said: “With most of us seeing our weekly shopping bills increase over the past few years, we are all looking for ways to get the most out of our shopping budget.
“Using leftover food is a good way of making our meals go further. However, unless we’re careful, there’s a chance we can risk food poisoning by not storing or handling them properly. During Food Safety Week we are encouraging people to view their fridge as their friend, and make the most of leftovers while staying safe.”
There are about 1M cases of food poisoning every year in the UK. The levels increase during summer months, with around 120,000 extra cases of illness from June to August.
One of the reasons is that warmer temperatures cause any germs present to grow faster, which underlines the importance of getting leftovers in the fridge quickly, said the FSA.