Financial woes drive Scottish consumers to disregard food safety 

SCOTLAND – The Food Standards Scotland’s (FSS) survey on “changes in eating habits” has revealed that half of the consumers polled in Scotland ate food past its use-by date due to financial concerns.

The survey conducted in late September focused on changes in eating habits and the crisis in the cost of living since April, covering about 1,000 people.

Since April, eating food past its expiration date has become increasingly common for roughly a third of people, the survey reveals.

It indicates that people in lower socioeconomic groups, those who lived in larger homes, those who had children living at home, and those who had health conditions were more likely to have done this frequently.

To save money, more than half of adults have eaten foods that were past their best-before dates.

Nearly a third claimed they have done so more frequently since the beginning of the year. While a best-before date addresses quality, a use-by date concerns safety.

Since April, consumers have increased their frequency of a variety of behaviors aimed at saving money.

The most frequent was buying less expensive brands or goods on clearance, but a quarter skipped meals or cut back on portion sizes and used the sniff test to determine whether food was safe.

Some people reheated food more frequently.

Meanwhile, 41% of people changed their cooking habits or techniques. One in ten respondents had lowered the cooking time for meals or modified the refrigerator’s temperature.

Compared to other age groups, those between the ages of 18 and 34 were more likely to have cut back on cooking time, reports Food Safety News.

Only 2% and 1%, respectively, had turned off their refrigerators and freezers to save on energy costs.

“While we were expecting the results of the survey to demonstrate some behavior changes in relation to how consumers are buying and preparing food, it’s concerning that so many people are adopting practices which could put them at increased risk of food poisoning,” Jacqui McElhiney, Head of Science at FSS.

She continued, “Perishable foods can become unsafe to eat when they are stored past their use-by date, especially when they are not kept chilled. Saving energy and avoiding food waste are always priorities, but we must also remember the importance of food safety.”

About 70 percent of adults said they were more worried about being able to afford food since April and no one was less worried. The other 30 percent indicated no change in opinion.

“While we were expecting the results of the survey to demonstrate some behavior changes in relation to how consumers are buying and preparing food, it’s concerning that so many people are adopting practices which could put them at increased risk of food poisoning.”

Jacqui McElhiney, Head of Science at FSS Tweet

According to McElhiney, the poll revealed how the cost of living is influencing consumer behavior and could have a detrimental effect on public health.

“As the public sector body for food safety and standards in Scotland, we are here to help protect consumers from food safety risks. While we understand that this is only one part of a much larger scale issue and appreciate the predicament that many consumers face, it makes our own role in helping the people of Scotland to avoid the risk of food poisoning even more important,” she said.   

The poll, which was conducted ahead of the increase in the energy price cap in October, was the first of several cost of living polls that FSS had planned.

Comparable findings by the Food Standards Agency

A September consumer study by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) of 2,000 individuals in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland also revealed some consumers were putting their food safety at risk due to financial constraints and rising energy prices.

Nearly one in five people shut off their fridge or freezer. 27 percent of people adjusted their refrigerator or freezer settings to keep their food at a warmer temperature.

Food that isn’t kept cold enough may spoil more quickly and become poisonous to consume. Since they couldn’t afford to cook hot food, a quarter of the participants had eaten cold food.

A third claimed they have consumed food past its expiration date due to a lack of funds.

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