Consumers ignore vital food safety advice latest research shows

Media release: 10 November 2013

Australian Food Safety Week 11-17 November 2013

A national Newspoll Survey, commissioned by the Food Safety Information Council for Australian Food Safety Week, shows too few Australian adults are taking notice of vital food safety advice on food labels and, with summer ahead, are taking risks by not using insulated bags or coolers to transport refrigerated food.

Dr Michael Eyles, Council Chair, said that it was disturbing to find only just over half (55%) of those surveyed always read and comply with ‘use by’ dates and less than half (45%) always read and comply with ‘best before’ dates.

“Frightening is not too strong a word to describe other results, including that only a third (33%) of people always read and comply with storage instructions and a meager 14% always read and comply with cooking instructions,” Dr Eyles elaborated.

“Consumers are obviously not taking advantage of the wealth of readily available information on labels which are intended to make our food safer and shopping decisions easier. For example ask yourself ‘Will I eat all of this by the ‘use by’ date?’ – ‘Do I have room in the fridge/freezer?’ – ‘Do I really want to cook this for that long’?

“When shopping, choose products you know you will consume or freeze within the ‘use by’ time. Never buy products after the ‘use by’ date. In fact it’s illegal to sell such food due to the risk of food poisoning.

“Food past the ’best before’ date is legal to sell and is often on special as this date refers to quality not safety − the biscuits may have lost their crunch, but won’t cause food poisoning.

“Storage instructions have a significant influence on the safety of perishable food, and can negate ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates as these depend on food being refrigerated or otherwise stored properly. ‘Refrigerate after opening’, ‘keep frozen’ or ‘refrigerate under 4°C’ must be followed or food poisoning bacteria will grow quickly.

“Don’t rely on how you stored food in the past. Products change with food trends, and many are now lower in salt and sugar than in the past. Food manufacturers know the recipe, the manufacturing process, and other details that indicate how long a product will last and how to store and cook it safely. “Read the advice on the label and you may find that the products you used to keep open in the cupboard now need to be refrigerated.”

Dr Eyles said despite cooking instructions being hugely important “an astounding 86% of those surveyed didn’t always read and comply with these instructions which is far too high and creates a serious food poisoning risk, especially for poultry, minced or cubed meats, or egg products.

“Following the manufacturer’s advice on temperature, cooking time, stirring and resting time is essential to ensure the food is safely cooked through and delicious,” he said.

On an optimistic note, the Council’s Newspoll survey did show that more than 8 in 10 (83%) people say the last time they bought refrigerated food it took less than 30 minutes to get the food from the store to the home fridge with nearly everyone else getting the food home in under an hour.

“This was a great result, and with the hot weather now for most of the country the 3 in 10 survey respondents (25% in capital cities versus 37% in regional Australia) saying they used an insulated bag or cooler to take food home are the smart ones, and hopefully others will follow their lead.

“Refrigerated food can warm quickly into the temperature danger zone (5° to 60°C) where food poisoning bacteria can grow − this is especially risky for foods that won’t be cooked again such as sliced deli meats, pate, prepared salads, cut fruits and soft cheeses.

“Also, pick up refrigerated and frozen food last when shopping and always take an insulated bag or cooler with you to the shops,” Dr Eyles concluded.

The Newspoll survey, commissioned by the Council, was conducted by telephone in October 2013 among a representative sample of n=1201 people, aged 18+ nationally.

Find out more about shopping food safety

CONTACT: Juliana Madden, Executive Officer: 0407 626 688

AUSTRALIAN FOOD SAFETY WEEK is the major activity of the Food Safety Information Council which aims to address the estimated 5.4 million cases of food borne illness in Australia each year.

Food poisoning results, on average, in 120 deaths, 1.2 million visits to doctors, 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics, and 2.1 million days of lost work each year. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning in Australia is $1.25 billion.

The Food Safety Information Council is Australia’s leading disseminator of consumer-targeted food safety information. It is a non-profit entity supported by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, state and territory health and food safety agencies, local government, and leading professional, industry and community organisations.