First we were scolded for needlessly throwing away food that is perfectly safe to eat, and now we're warned about gambling with our health by eating food that is past its best.
The latest conflicting stance comes from the Food Standards Agency, which this week warns that our ignorance over food safety is partly to blame for a UK food poisoning epidemic, with 1.7 million cases now occurring every year.
The warning is issued as part of Food Safety Week 2013 (10-16 June). According to the Agency, 40% of consumers are prepared to eat food that is past its use-by date, while more than two-thirds of people check the safety of products simply by sniffing them or examining their colour - tests that are entirely unreliable.
Much of the ignorance over food safety comes down to the confusion between use-by and best-before dates, with consumers becoming either overzealous and throwing away anything past these dates, or completely indifferent and eating the food regardless.
The FSA states that use-by dates are found on perishable products, such as dairy, meat and fish, and are based on scientific testing to determine how long these foods will stay safe. After that date, food could be unsafe to eat even if it is stored correctly and looks and smells fine.
Best-before dates are used on foods that have a longer shelf life and tell us how long the food will be at its best. After that date it is normally safe to eat, but its flavour and texture might have deteriorated. Examples include dry products like biscuits, crackers and cereal.
Understanding and following these dates is the best guide to eating safely, ensuring you neither consume potentially harmful food or waste the perfectly good stuff.
We throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year in the UK, according to Love Food Hate Waste, and more than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten.
The two main reasons for throwing away good food are preparing too much or not using it in time before it turns bad. The foods wasted most are fresh vegetables and salad, drinks, fresh fruit, and bakery items such as bread and cakes.
Knowledge is power in the campaign for food safety and consumers are advised to educate themselves in order to save money, cut waste and keep healthy. Did you know for example, that baked beans and cheese can be frozen and soured milk tastes great in pancakes? Find many hints more to make the most of the food you buy at LoveFoodHateWaste.com.
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