5 Out Of 10 People Ignore Use By Dates - Food Safety Authority of Ireland

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today published a nationwide survey that provides an insight into consumers’ understanding and attitude to ‘Best Before Dates’ and ‘Use by Dates’ on food labels. It shows that while over 9 out of 10 people (96%) claim to understand both terms, when probed only half of people (5 out of 10) correctly understood the meaning of shelf-life dates on food labels.

The survey coincided with a joint FSAI/Teagasc seminar for the food industry on Product Shelf Life and Microbiological Criteria and the release by the FSAI of Guidance Note 26 on compliance with the Microbiological Criteria legislation.

One of the most concerning findings of the survey is that almost 5 out of 10 people (46%) said that they have no problem eating food that has passed its use by date while over a third of people (1 in 3) people said that as long as food looks and smells what they deem to be okay they ignore use by dates.  The FSAI states that this is a worrying statistic as consumers are potentially putting their health at risk.

Speaking at the seminar, Dr Wayne Anderson,  Director Food Science and Standards stated that ‘It is somewhat alarming that 5 out of 10 people are misunderstand the meaning of use by and best before and this may be the reason why almost half of people think it’s OK 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”.

Mr Pat Daly, Head of Industry Development in Teagasc addressing delegates highlighted that the shelf-life of food, in particular the accurate setting of use by dates is vitally important.  

“The Irish food industry is important to our economic recovery and this must be built on a reputation for safe foods that are of the highest quality. Today’s seminar in Teagasc is an important training opportunity for food businesses where they can access crucial information from both Irish and international experts in the field. We are committed to supporting the development of the Irish food industry through partnership with other State bodies like the FSAI,” he stated.

Dr Anderson told the food industry attending the event; “It is important that food businesses set shelf life dates accurately for every food. The food industry must have a valid basis for setting the date they put on their products.  Use-by dates must be set on the basis of safety and best before date must be set on the basis of quality. Consumers have to be able to trust the use-by dates on their foods and know that the food is safe if eaten before the use-by date”

The nationwide survey undertaken by Red C of 1,000 consumers also reveals that 8 out of 10 people (80%) will go to the back of the fridge in a shop to get products with the longest use by date. It also highlights that almost 4 out of 10 people (39%) do not use foods that have passed the best before date even if the food looks and smells okay leading to unnecessary food wastage by consumers.  Best before dates provide consumers with a guideline to follow indicating when the food has gone past its best quality.  Consumers are advised to use their judgement with these foods, if the foods smell and look okay they can be eaten and not thrown away. Unnecessary waste of food can be avoided in this way.

“The FSAI continues to monitor how companies set shelf life  so food labels continue to provide clear, accurate  information to help consumers store, prepare and consume food appropriately and safely”, he concluded.