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Image: Joe Dunne/Photocall Ireland

Almost half of people ignore use-by dates

A third of people said that they ignore use-by dates as long as the food looks and smells ‘okay’.
Nov 18th 2011, 10:51 AM 1,653 15

ALMOST 5 OUT of 10 people have no problem with eating food that has passed its use-by date, a survey by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has found.

A third of people said that they ignore use-by dates as long as the food looks and smells ‘okay’.

96 per cent of people say that they understand what use-by dates and best before dates mean, but when questioned further just 5 out of 10 correctly understood what the terms mean.

The FSAI has said that it is worried consumers could be putting their health at risk. Dr. Wayne Anderson, the director of food science and standards at the FSAI said:

It is somewhat alarming that 5 out of 10 people misunderstand the meaning of use by and best before, and this may be the reason why almost half of people think it’s okay to eat foods after the use-by date has expired.

“We would caution people to be careful in this regard as food products contaminated with harmful bacteria may look okay and taste and smell no different when they have gone beyond their use-by date.

The survey of 1,000 consumers, carried about by Red C, also found that 80 per cent of people will go to the back of the fridge in a shop to find products with the longest-use by date.

A use-by date is used on food products which are highly perishable and are therefore more likely to constitute a danger to health after a short period. It usually applies to chilled foods. A best-before date reflects the quality of a food product – taste, smell, appearance – rather than the safety of the product. Typically a best-before date is declared on food products such as canned, dried and frozen foods.

The findings were part of a joint FSAI/Teagasc seminar for the food industry on product shelf life.

A spokesperson for Teagasc said that the Irish food industry must ensure that accurate use-by dates  are set to build on Ireland’s “reputation for safe foods”.

The FSAI advised consumers to use their judgement when it comes to foods that have reached their best before date, saying that food that smells and looks okay can still be eaten and not thrown away.

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Christine Bohan

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