Half of people worried about food affordability have eaten cooked meats and bagged salad past their use by dates, according to a Food Standards Agency survey monitoring behavior during the coronavirus pandemic.
The monthly tracker looked at attitudes, experience and behaviors of consumers on food in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Further surveys are planned during June and July.
Interviews were conducted in April and fieldwork took place online in May. Ipsos MORI was commissioned by the FSA to survey 2,039 adults in a first wave and 2,040 people in the second wave. Participants were aged 16 to 75 living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Consumption of food past its use by date is higher among people concerned about food affordability. The proportion of people worried about affordability dropped from 28 percent in April to 23 percent in May. However, it is higher for younger age groups and households with children.
Five food types chosen by FSA
Fifty percent of respondents reported eating cooked meats that have gone past their use by dates at least once, compared to 30 percent not worried about affordability. A total of 35 percent said they ate soft (mold ripened) cheeses past their date, versus 17 percent not worried about affordability.
Almost a third reported eating smoked fish past its use by date at least once, against 12 percent not worried about affordability. More than half ate bagged salad past its date, compared to 32 percent not worried about affordability. A total of 41 percent reported drinking pasteurized milk past its use by date at least once, compared to 24 percent not worried about affordability.
The five types of food were selected by FSA microbiologists as posing a risk to food safety if eaten past their use-by dates. Use-by dates are about food safety whilst best before dates cover quality.
The number of people who skipped meals or cut down on portion sizes due to not having enough money remained stable at 18 percent in April and 16 percent in May. Those using emergency providers to access food was stable at 8 percent in April and 7 percent in May.
Heather Hancock, chair at the FSA, said the consumer tracker is helping understand people’s food concerns during the pandemic.
“We will continue to play our part in responding to this global pandemic and ensuring food is safe and what it says it is,” she said.
Following FSA advice
Women are more likely to follow FSA advice such as always checking use-by dates before cooking or preparing food and never washing raw chicken. Those aged 16 to 24 are more likely to always wash raw chicken compared to older age groups. Respondents living in urban areas were more likely than those in rural zones to always wash raw chicken.
Overall, two thirds said they always or most of the time follow instructions on packaging describing how long food should be stored once opened but a quarter said they only sometimes do this. While almost half said they never wash raw chicken, nearly a quarter always wash it. Half said they always or most of the time use different chopping boards for different foods but a quarter said they sometimes do this and the other quarter reported they never do it.
People are buying fewer takeaways overall compared to before lockdown due to financial reasons, cooking more at home, less availability, and concerns over food safety and hygiene. However, younger people are buying more takeaways. Of those who said they were concerned about safety of takeaway food, the main response involved fear of contamination, infection and transmission of COVID-19.
Purchasing from sources such as vendors on Facebook Marketplace at 7 percent in April and 8 percent in May and food-sharing apps remained stable at 8 percent in April and 9 percent in May. For food delivery from an online ordering company such as Deliveroo, 14 percent reported doing this more often, 19 percent less often and 18 percent about the same.
More than third of people also reported wasting or throwing away food less often while 8 percent said they had done this more often.
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