Half of consumers ignore 'best before' dates

Tuesday, 12 November, 2013

Less than half of Australian consumers read and comply with ‘best before’ dates, new research shows. In addition, only 55% always read and comply with ‘use by’ dates, a national Newspoll survey, commissioned by the Food Safety Information Council for Australian Food Safety Week, has revealed.

“Frightening is not too strong a word to describe other results, including that only a third (33%) of people always read and comply with storage instructions and a meagre 14% always read and comply with cooking instructions,” said Dr Michael Eyles, Chair of the Food Safety Information Council.

“Consumers are obviously not taking advantage of the wealth of readily available information on labels which are intended to make our food safer and shopping decisions easier.

“Storage instructions have a significant influence on the safety of perishable food, and can negate ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates as these depend on food being refrigerated or otherwise stored properly. ‘Refrigerate after opening’, ‘keep frozen’ or ‘refrigerate under 4°C’ must be followed or food poisoning bacteria will grow quickly.

“Don’t rely on how you stored food in the past. Products change with food trends, and many are now lower in salt and sugar than in the past. Food manufacturers know the recipe, the manufacturing process and other details that indicate how long a product will last and how to store and cook it safely. Read the advice on the label and you may find that the products you used to keep open in the cupboard now need to be refrigerated.”

Dr Eyles said he was shocked that 86% of those surveyed don’t always read and comply with cooking instructions, which can create a serious food poisoning risk, especially for poultry, minced or cubed meats and egg products.

However, some messages appear to be reaching consumers: more than 8 in 10 respondents said the last time they bought refrigerated food, they had it at home in the fridge within 30 minutes. The remainder of respondents had the food refrigerated in under one hour.

“This was a great result, and with the hot weather now for most of the country the 3 in 10 survey respondents (25% in capital cities versus 37% in regional Australia) saying they used an insulated bag or cooler to take food home are the smart ones and hopefully others will follow their lead,” Dr Eyles said.

The Newspoll survey, which was commissioned by the Food Safety Information Council, was conducted in October 2013. In total, 1201 people aged 18 and over were surveyed.

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