Survey reveals truth of our food safety behaviours

A survey carried out by Excellence Ireland Quality Association (EIQA ) has revealed that many consumers are uncertain about basic food safety practices.

It is widely reported that there is a lot of confusion among householders when it comes to ‘use by’, sell by’ and ‘best before dates’. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI ) states that the ‘use by’ is the date up until which a food may be used safely - consumed, cooked or processed - once it has been stored correctly. After the ‘use by’ date a food is deemed unsafe and cannot be sold. ‘Best before dates’ are more about the quality of a product.

When survey respondents were asked what method they most frequently use to defrost frozen foods, 56 per cent indicated that they thaw frozen foods at room temperature. Some 61 per cent of respondents seemed to think it is okay to eat food that had been sitting out at room temperature for more than two hours.

According to Safefood, the safest way to defrost food is in the fridge, and you should allow at least 24 hours for every 2 to 2.5kg (4-5 lbs ). When food reaches a temperature of between 5°C and 63°C (‘the danger zone’ ), bacteria on the food can grow to a point where it can make people ill.

Some 11 per cent of respondents said they do not keep leftovers at all, and 88 per cent throw them out within three days, although seven per cent admitted to leaving leftovers until they are ‘gone off’. According to the FSAI, leftovers should be kept covered in the fridge and used within two to three days.

When respondents were asked if they have ever re-frozen meats that have been fully or partially defrosted, 89 per cent said never. According to the FSAI, defrosted food should not be refrozen unless first cooked to over 70°C (it is recommended that food reach 70°C for at least two minutes or 75°C instantaneously to ensure proper cooking ) and should not be refrozen more than once following this cooking step.

When asked how often they wash packaged fruits or vegetables, 30 per cent said always, but 49 per cent indicated that they sometimes, rarely or never wash packaged fruits or vegetables, even if it stated on the packaging to do so. According to the FSAI, vegetables should be washed thoroughly in appropriate washing facilities in the kitchen. Pre-prepared fresh produce can be used without further washing unless the supplier states that washing is required.

Irene Collins, managing director of EIQA, said: “It’s important that we teach food safety principles and practices to people from an early age as these principles can be carried through life and hopefully passed onto the next generation. By making a few simple changes to our everyday practices, we can help make a substantial difference in protecting people against food borne illness.”

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