Healthy living

People taking risks with food safety

People taking risks with food safety Food poisoning risk as people ignore use-by dates and keep leftovers for too long

People are taking more risks with food safety to try to save money, a survey by the Food Standards Agency suggests.

A poll of nearly 2,000 people found that many tried to save money and make their food go further by ignoring use-by dates and keeping leftovers for longer than the recommended limit of two days in the fridge.

Some 97 per cent of people questioned thought the cost of food had risen significantly in the last three years, with nearly half (47%) saying they tried to make better use of leftover food.

At the start of Food Safety Week, the FSA is reminding people not to take risks with food safety, even as budgets are squeezed.

There are around a million cases of food poisoning every year in the UK. Cases of food poisoning rise during the summer months, with around 120,000 extra cases of illness from June to August.

One of the reasons for this is that warmer temperatures cause any germs present to grow faster, which is why leftovers have to be stored in the fridge quickly.

Bob Martin, a food safety expert at the FSA, said: "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."

The FSA research also revealed that people are risking food poisoning by ignoring "use by" dates more than they used to. The Agency stated that use-by dates are the most important ones on food labels, as they are used on foods that can rapidly become unsafe, such as chilled or ready-to-eat foods.

Researchers found that a third of people were more likely to judge when food was safe to eat by its smell, look or how long it's been stored, rather than by the use-by date.

Mr Martin added: "It's tempting to just give your food a sniff to see if you think it's gone off, but food bugs like 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 to manage stock."

FSA advice on leftovers:

  • If you are going to store leftovers in the fridge, cool them as quickly as possible, ideally within 90 minutes. Cover them, get them in the fridge and then eat them within two days.
  • Make sure your fridge is operating at the correct temperature – it should be below 5°C.
  • You can freeze leftovers, but cool them first to minimise temperature fluctuation in your freezer. They can be safely stored in the freezer almost indefinitely, but the quality will deteriorate gradually with time, so it’s best to eat them within three months.
  • Make sure you defrost frozen leftovers properly before using them. If you're going to cook them straightaway use a microwave. If you don't have a microwave, defrost them in the fridge overnight.
  • Eat leftovers within 24 hours of defrosting and do not refreeze again. The only exception to this is if you are defrosting raw food, such as meat or poultry, which can be refrozen once it has been cooked. Cook leftovers until steaming hot throughout.

This article was published on Mon 11 June 2012

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