A survey has shown how rising prices are prompting people to take more food safety risks in an attempt to save money, according to recently released research.

The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) Food and You 2 survey was conducted between April and July 2023. A total of 5,812 adults from 4,006 households across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland took part. It measured consumers’ self-reported knowledge, attitudes and behaviors related to food safety and other food topics.   

About 1 in 5 respondents reported an increase in risky food safety behaviors because of financial reasons, such as keeping leftovers for longer and eating food past its use-by date. A few people had changed settings on the refrigerator or freezer or the length of time or temperature food was cooked at.

This is up from the same period in 2022 when 11 percent each had eaten food past its use-by date more and kept leftovers for longer before eating them.

The previous survey in October 2022 to January 2023 found 13 percent kept leftovers for longer before eating, 12 percent had eaten food past its use-by date more, 3 percent changed settings on the fridge or freezer, and 2 percent changed the length of time or temperature food is cooked at.

Increased food poisoning risk
“It is particularly concerning that some respondents were telling us they were turning to riskier food behaviors to save money, such as keeping leftovers for longer and eating food past its use-by date. These types of behaviors can lead to a higher risk of people becoming ill with food poisoning. To make food go further, we are encouraging people to follow our tips for keeping food safe, including freezing food on or before its use-by date if you are not going to use it,” said Emily Miles, FSA chief executive.

The majority of respondents were confident that the food they buy is safe to eat. Older people were more likely to be confident than younger adults and white respondents were more likely to be confident than Asian or Asian British people.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents had no concerns about the food they eat. The most common concerns related to food production methods, nutrition and health, and the quality of food. Other issues included food contamination, authenticity, as well as food safety and hygiene. 

Most respondents had heard of the FSA. Many people were confident that the agency can be relied upon to protect the public from food-related risks and about three quarters were confident that the FSA takes appropriate action if a food-related risk is identified.

Almost half of respondents “always” or “most of the time” looked for the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) score, 31 percent did this about half of the time or occasionally, and 21 percent never looked for the FHRS score when ordering food and drink online.

Monthly tracker data
FSA has also published findings from its monthly consumer insights tracker, which monitors the behavior and attitudes of adults in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in relation to food. More than 2,000 adults were surveyed.

Results for March 2024 showed that almost all measures were consistent with the previous month. One in five were worried about their household not being able to afford food in the next month.

More than 60 percent were concerned about the safety and quality of imported food while 47 percent were worried about the quality of food produced in the UK and 42 percent about its safety.

To save money, almost half had chosen cheaper alternatives rather than branded products and 37 percent had bought reduced or discounted food close to its use-by date.

A total of 9 percent had eaten food past the use-by date because they couldn’t afford to buy more. Eleven percent had reduced the time food was cooked for or lowered the cooking temperature.

Nine percent had changed the settings on a refrigerator or freezer so food was kept at a warmer temperature and 5 percent had turned off a refrigerator or freezer containing food.

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