The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has found some people are taking food safety risks because of money pressures and rising energy costs.

Data comes from a consumer survey of 2,000 adults in September relating to food in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. 

A new question for the latest edition of the monthly poll asked people about a range of food safety-related behaviors they carried out at least once in the past month to reduce energy bills and save money.

Risky consumer behavior
Almost one in five turned off a refrigerator or freezer containing food. A total of 27 percent changed the settings on their refrigerator or freezer so that food is kept at a warmer temperature. If food isn’t properly chilled it could spoil faster and be unsafe to eat.

Overall, 28 percent of participants lowered food cooking temperature and 29 percent reduced the length of time for cooking food.

Almost 60 percent used cheaper cooking methods such as a microwave, air fryer, or slow cooker, instead of an oven to heat or cook food.

Another new set of questions found that 25 percent of participants had eaten cold food as they could not afford to cook hot food.

A third of respondents reported they had eaten food past its use-by date because they couldn’t afford to buy any more. A use-by date is about safety while a best-before date covers quality.

“It’s not a good idea to turn off the fridge or eat food past its use-by date as these things can lead to a higher risk of you becoming ill with food poisoning,” said Emily Miles, FSA chief executive.

“Your fridge is a useful appliance that not only keeps your food safe but can help cut down what you end up throwing out. Keeping your fridge cold enough, 5 degrees C (41 degrees F) or below, will prevent bacteria from multiplying on your food and make it last as long as it can. You should also keep food with a use-by date in the fridge and think about freezing it on or before the day of the date if you’re not going to use it.”

Broader worries
Overall, 42 percent of participants felt concerned about the safety of food produced in the UK, compared to 55 percent who were worried about the safety of food from outside the UK.

A total of 61 percent said they trust the FSA to do its job and three-quarters think the agency would take appropriate action if a food-related risk was identified.

Three-quarters of people felt confident that those involved in the UK supply chain ensure that food is safe to eat. This has decreased since tracking began in November 2021.

In total, 85 percent of participants were concerned about food prices. This is in line with the previous month but the figure has gone up since November 2021.

In September, 39 percent felt worried about there not being enough food available for their household to buy in the next month. This is up from the previous month and since tracking began in April 2020.

Thirty percent had skipped a meal or cut down the size of meals because they did not have enough money to buy food and 17 percent had used a food bank or food charity in the past month.

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