A UK report by the a Food Standards Agency suggests that as home finances tighten, people are taking more risks with their food leaving them vulnerable to incidents of food poisoning.
The report by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which summarizes a survey of almost 2,000 people, suggests that more than half of the respondents are trying to stretch home finances by making more use of leftover food.
Although it might make economic sense, and also go some way to protecting the planet's resources, the re-processing of certain leftovers can be a risky process. This is especially so if use-by dates are ignored, particularly with items which require refrigeration.
Food Bev, in reviewing the report, notes that use by dates on food are there to protect consumers from harmful bacteria that might grow in food. There is a noticeable difference between "use by" dates and "best before" dates. "Best before” dates only signal how fresh long-life food is, rather than whether or not it is safe to eat; whereas “use by” dates are an indicator of health risks, including food poisoning like Salmonella and E.coli, if food is eaten after the recommended date.
Food label dates are important. “Use by” dates are typically found on dairy products, meat and fish, which spoil quickly and can cause illness if eaten after their “use by” dates. “Best before” dates appear on foods that have a longer shelf life, such as biscuits, crisps and dried pulses. They indicate how long food will be at its best quality for. Eating food past its “best before” date is unlikely to be harmful, unless it is eggs.
The BBC quotes Bob Martin, from the FSA, who states: "With most of us seeing our weekly shopping bills increase over the last 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."
According to the FSA's report, as one local authority summarizes, there are over one million cases of food poisoning annually in the UK, with 20,000 hospitalisations and 500 related deaths each year.
Although the report is UK based, the findings could be applicable to many nations in these times of global financial turmoil. For example, the FSA advice that leftovers should be put in the fridge as soon as possible and then eaten within two days and should be cooked until they are steaming hot, strikes a common note of caution.
The FSA's report was part of Food Safety Week 2012 in the UK, which runs from June 11-17.