A national survey commissioned as part of Australian Food Safety Week shows that few adults are taking notice of vital food safety advice on food labels and, with summer ahead, are taking risks by not using insulated bags or coolers to transport refrigerated food.
Food Safety Information Council chairman Dr Michael Eyles, said it was disturbing to find only 55 percent of respondents in the recent Newspoll Survey always read and complied with ‘use by’ dates on food items. Less than half (45pc) always read and complied with ‘best before’ dates.
Australian Food Safety Week, being observed nationally this week from 11-17 November, is the major activity of the Food Safety Information Council.
The exercise aims to address the estimated 5.4 million cases of food borne illness in Australia each year. Food poisoning results in an average of 120 deaths, 1.2 million visits to doctors, 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics, and 2.1 million days of lost work each year. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning in Australia is $1.25 billion.
‘Frightening’ was not too strong a word to describe other results from the survey, Dr Eyles said.
“That includes the finding that only one third of people always read and comply with storage instructions, and just 14pc always read and comply with cooking instructions,” he said.
“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.”
For example consumers should be asking themselves:
* “Will I eat all of this by the ‘use by’ date?”
* “Do I have room in the fridge/freezer?”
* “Do I really want to cook this for that long?”
“When shopping, consumers should choose products they know they will consume or freeze within the ‘use-by’ time. They should never buy products after the ‘use by’ date, in fact it’s illegal to sell such food due to the risk of food poisoning,” Dr Eyles said.
“Food past the ’best before’ date is legal to sell and is often on special, as this date refers to quality not safety − the biscuits may have lost their crunch, but won’t cause food poisoning.”
Storage instructions also had a significant influence on the safety of perishable food, and could 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.
Consumers shouldn’t rely on how they 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.
Despite cooking instructions being hugely important, an astounding 86pc of respondents in the survey didn’t always read and comply with these instructions.
“That’s far too high and creates a serious food poisoning risk, especially for poultry, minced or cubed meats, or egg products,” he said.
“It’s essential that consumers follow the manufacturer’s advice on temperature, cooking time, stirring and resting time to ensure the food is safely cooked through.”
On an optimistic note, the Council’s Newspoll survey did show that more than 8 in 10 (83pc) of people said the last time they bought refrigerated food it took less than 30 minutes to get the food from the store to the home fridge. Nearly all respondents said they got the perishable food home in under an hour.
“That was a great result, and with the hot weather now approaching for most of the country, the 3 in 10 survey respondents (25pc in capital cities versus 37pc 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.
“Refrigerated food can warm quickly into the temperature danger zone (5°-65°C) where food poisoning bacteria can grow. This is especially risky for foods that won’t be cooked again such as sliced deli meats, pate, prepared salads, cut fruits and soft cheeses.”
He also advised consumers to pick-up refrigerated and frozen food last when shopping and always take an insulated bag or cooler to the shops.
- The Newspoll survey, commissioned by the Food Safety Information Council, was conducted by telephone in October among a representative sample of 1201 people, aged 18+ nationally.
- The Food Safety Information Council is Australia’s leading disseminator of consumer-targeted food safety information. It is a non-profit entity supported by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, state and territory health and food safety agencies, local government, and leading professional, industry and community organisations.
HAVE YOUR SAY