Is it safe to eat food past its ‘use by’ date? 28% of people think so

Some 28% of people in the UK believe that it’s safe to eat food past its ‘use by’ date, even though this could put their health at risk, a survey by Mintel has found.

When it comes to food safety UK consumers aren’t slaves to ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates, Mintel says.

A further 56% of people in the UK agree that it’s safe to eat food that is past its ‘best before’ date, the research found.

Two thirds of respondents to the survey said that they rely on their own senses, such as smell, taste and sight, rather than use by or ‘best before’ dates to decide if a product is still suitable to eat.

In Ireland, while it is legal to sell food after its best before date, it is illegal to sell food past its ‘use by’ date, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) says.

It says that foods that are past their use by date are deemed unsafe and it is illegal to place unsafe food on the market.

When it comes to food and drink safety concerns, just 35% said that they speak to their friends or family about product safety while only 28% say they have searched the internet for information about concerns about food and drink safety.

Despite this, UK consumers said that they are keen to learn more on this subject from producers and almost half (47%) would like brands and supermarkets to provide more advice on how to store food safely.

When it comes to labelling, 50% of respondents said that they would trust a food or drink brand more if it had a clear label from a food quality assurance scheme.

Some 44% said that more detailed ingredient information on the pack, such as where ingredients are sourced and how they were used, would encourage trust.

Douglas Faughnan, Senior Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel, said that the lack of understanding and apparent disregard for use by and best before date labels is problematic on two fronts; consumer safety and food waste.

“Part of the problem may be down to consumer confusion around what the different terms on-pack mean, with the likes of ‘use by’, ‘best before’ and ‘display until’ apparently not clear or distinct enough.”

Food contamination

While the survey showed that there is a low proportion of consumers looking for information on food safety, Mintel found that there is anxiety among consumers when it comes to the contamination of food.

Some 85% said that they are concerned about the presence of harmful bacteria in food and drink and the same proportion said the lack of hygiene standards in food production and processing are a concern.

A further 77% of consumers said they were concerned about the use of hormones in livestock, and 75% say they’re worried about antibiotics or medicine given to livestock.

“Hygiene standards throughout the supply chain are high on the list of consumer concerns, highlighting the need for brands to reassure wherever they can,” Douglas said.

Half of respondents said they would trust a food or drink company or brand more if it had a clear label from a food quality assurance scheme while the same proportion (50%) said they would have more trust if clear packaging was used, so they can see what is inside.

Additionally, 44% say that more detailed ingredient information on the pack, such as where ingredients are sourced and how they were used, would encourage trust, whilst a third would have added trust if there was the name of the farmer or producer on-pack, Mintel said.

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