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Food Safety Paying the Price of Higher Grocery Prices?

The Food Price Index – produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – suggests we are paying less for food this year than we did for much of 2010 and 2011. But research conducted in the United Kingdom finds that these tight food budgets might have some food safety ramifications.

According to the UN Food Price Index, the real spike in grocery costs began midway through 2010 and continued until finally slowing late in 2011. That price index averred 204 points in May, down 4 percent from April and 14 percent below the peak it experienced in September 2010.

But survey research conducted for the UK’s Food Standards Agency in anticipation of Food Safety Week – observed June 11-17 – found that people clearly feel the cost of a “weekly food shop” is considerably more than it was 3 years ago.

Those higher price impressions, according to the researchers, are causing value-conscious shoppers in the UK to be quick to take advantage of offers, cheaper brands, and to take more risks with food safety.

Leftovers are in these days, because people are keeping wasted food to a minimum. Saving excess food for later fits with people’s lifestyles and makes food spending go further.

A possible downside the researchers discovered was that people are relying more on their personal judgment about whether food is safe to eat and going less by “use by” dates than they did in the past.

UK residents feel they are dealing with rising food costs, according to the survey. The research found that 97 percent believe the cost of filling their shopping basket has gone up in the last three years, and almost half (47 percent) say they are making leftovers last longer than the recommended stint of two days in the fridge.

In reaction to their survey, FSA officials issued some cautionary statements.

“Using leftover food is a good way of making our meals go further,” says Bob Martin, an FSA food expert,  “However, unless we’re careful, there’s a chance we can risk food poisoning by not storing or handling them properly. During Food Safety Week we are encouraging people to view their fridge as their friend, and make the most of left-overs while staying safe.”

The UK experiences about one million cases of food poisoning each year, with the peak period being the summer months, when an additional 120,000 cases occur from June to August.  Warmer temperatures cause germs to grow faster and require getting leftovers in the fridge quickly.

FSA said the survey was conducted in part to get a handle on the public’s shopping habits in the current economic climate and to understand how rising costs of food impacts food safety habits.

Participants in the survey included 1,906 residents of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. One sign that people are very conscious of food costs is the fact that 9 of 10 people always or sometimes check what’s in their cupboards before going out buy groceries, and 94 percent shop from a prepared list. Almost all stick to it.

FSA’s advice on leftovers includes:

– Cover leftovers and get them into the fridge within 90 minutes.

– Check to be sure the fridge is cooling to the required temperature (below 5 degrees Celsius or 41 degrees Fahrenheit).

– Cool leftovers before freezing them.

– Properly defrost frozen leftovers, using the microwave if you are in a hurry.

– Eat defrosted leftovers within 24 hours unless you are defrosting raw meat or poultry.

– Cook leftovers until steaming hot.

FSA also stressed the importance of “use by” dates: “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,” Martin said. “So food could look and smell fine but still be harmful.”

It is especially important to pay attention to “use by” dates on ready-to-eat foods and chilled foods, according to FSA.

Love Food Hate Waste, a nonprofit group, still estimates 20 percent of the food purchased in the UK goes to waste.  The group is encouraging people to enjoy their leftovers and “do it safely.”

Leftovers are most popular in Wales, where 66 percent of people reported using them, and less relied upon in North Ireland, where 50 percent regularly save leftovers.

© Food Safety News
  • “The Food Price Index – produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – suggests we are paying less for food this year than we did for much of 2010 and 2011.”
    Yeah, right. Where do these bureaucrats shop? Everything I buy is more expensive than last year.
    Good advice on the handling of leftovers though.