41% risk food poisoning from eating foods after ‘use-by’ date

June 8, 2009. 41% of Northern Ireland’s over 60s put their health at risk by not checking the ‘use by’ date on food labels according to a survey(1) released today by safefood and the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland (FSANI). The survey marks the start of National Food Safety Week which runs from 15th to 21st June 2009.

As the number of cases of Listeria has increased recently within this age group, the aim of this year’s National Food Safety Week is to remind people about good food hygiene and the correct methods for storing and handling food at home.

The survey also revealed that 59% of people reported eating perishable foods two days or more past their ‘use-by’ date, which can lead to food poisoning. The ‘use-by’ date is the date that food can be used up to, provided it has been stored as described on the label. The ‘use-by’ date is not to be confused with the ‘best before’ date which provides an indication of the quality of the food. It is okay to eat food after a ‘best before’ date but NEVER after a ‘use-by’ date.

Commenting on the survey results, Dr. David McCleery safefood said “Older people are more susceptible to certain types of food poisoning than they would have been when they were younger.  We would remind them to read and observe ‘use by’ dates on food labels and make sure their fridges are kept cool enough, 5°C or less.  These simple but effective changes could make a big difference in reducing the risk of food poisoning”.

Kathryn Baker, Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland said “National Food Safety Week gives us a great opportunity to highlight practical steps people can take in order to reduce the risk of illnesses such as Listeria. Listeria can be very serious and almost all people who get food poisoning from this bug end up in hospital. Over 60s are particularly at risk, the number of cases of Listeria in this age group has more than doubled in the UK since 2000, and so our campaign focuses on food hygiene advice for this particular group of people.”

The report also highlighted that 53% of those surveyed did not know the correct temperature for their fridge and of those who claimed they knew; 20% were incorrect.  Keeping fridges at 5°C or less by using a fridge thermometer can also help with minimising the risk of food poisoning in the home. 

A Bingo game called “Beat the Bingo Bug!” has been developed for use with older people’s groups that get together socially and is a fun way of highlighting the importance of food hygiene. The game will be sent to these groups across Northern Ireland with the help of district councils and organisations such as Age Concern Help the Aged NI for playing during National Food Safety Week.

The game features food hygiene messages such as “Don’t miss that date” and “Chill out” instead of calling out bingo numbers, which players then match on their Bingo cards. There are five themes to the game; choosing food, cooking, chilling, cleaning and preventing cross contamination of germs.

Working in partnership with the 26 councils, the National Food Safety Week campaign in Northern Ireland is co-funded by FSANI and safefood.

For more information about National Food Safety Week please contact the safefood helpline on 0800 085 1683 or email info@safefood.eu or the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland on 028 90417700 or email infofsani@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk.

The "Beat the Bingo Bug" pack can be downloaded by clicking on the links below:

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For further information please contact

Kathy Doyle, Account Manager Smarts
Telephone: 028 9039 5509 or Email: kathy.doyle@smarts.co.uk

Editor’s Notes

(1) The survey was conducted across all twenty six council areas in Northern Ireland, over a two week period (April 24th – May 8th 2009), with a total sample size of seven hundred and eighty.

  • Beat the Bingo Bug! is a bingo game which delivers food hygiene messages in a social setting through existing groups that meet regularly. The game was piloted by Age Concern and Help the Aged NI in their Belfast, Armagh and city of Derry centres.
  • Other organisations distributing the game include Engage with Age; Voluntary Service Bureau; Ally Foyle; Roe Valley; Sperrin Lakeland & Caring Services; Newry & Mourne Consortium; and Northern Ireland Housing Associations.
  • There has been a rise in the reported cases of the foodborne illness, Listeria, in recent years in the over 60s age group. Listeria is bug that can cause an illness like the flu. It can be dangerous for a number of groups including the elderly, pregnant women, unborn babies and new babies. A person with a Listeria infection can have symptoms such as fever, tiredness and headache. Because the symptoms are sometimes mild, you might not know you have it. Listeria can live in meat, milk, butter, cream, yogurt and vegetables. Food that is not cooked, such as salads or food from the fridge can also have Listeria in it.    

Research Findings

  • 41% of respondents reported eating perishable foods after their “use-by” date. A further 58% of this sample reported eating perishable foods that were two days or more past their ‘use-by’ date.
  • 20% of those surveyed admitted that not knowing the difference between a “use-by” and “best-before” date. Of those who thought they knew, 30% answered incorrectly.
  • 53% of consumers did not know the correct temperature for their fridge. Of those who claimed they knew; 20% were incorrect.
  • 71% respondents do not keep a thermometer in their fridge.