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Older people gambling with food safety

People over the age of 60 are more likely to take risks with 'use by' dates than younger people, according to new research published today (15.6.09) by the Food Standards Agency. The research coincides with the launch of an Agency campaign to focus on this age group during Food Safety Week.

Eating food beyond its 'use by' date increases the risk of food poisoning from the listeria food bug, which can be life-threatening for this age group.

A recent sharp rise in the number of people taken ill with listeria has seen more older people affected. The number of cases rose by 20% in 2007 and has doubled since 2000, this increase occurring predominantly among people over 60.

The research published today shows that less than half of this age group recognise 'use by' dates as an important indicator of whether food is safe or not, and so they could be putting themselves at risk of serious illness.

The research findings include the following:

  • Less than half (42%) of older people questioned in the survey correctly identified the ‘use by’ date as an important indicator of whether a food is safe – much lower than people in younger age groups (51% of 25–44 year olds and 53% of 45–64 correctly identified the 'use by' date)
  • Of particular concern was that older respondents were more likely to eat food past its ‘use by’ date. For example, 40% would eat dairy products up to three days past their 'use by' date – dairy products as well as a wide range of other chilled ready-to-eat foods can contain listeria
  • Only a third of people (34%) aged over 65 would never eat dairy past its ‘use by’ date, compared with more than half of people aged 16–24 (56%) and 25–44 (54%) and two fifths (40%) of those aged 45–64
  • Less than half (39%) of people aged over 65 checked their fridge temperature at least every six months – setting the right fridge temperature (between 0°C and 5°C) is important to control the growth of listeria in food.

Other research commissioned by the Agency into the attitudes of the over 60s towards food safety, showed that people were reluctant to throw away food and were often confused by fridge temperatures.

The research findings are taken from new analysis of the Agency’s Public Attitudes to Food Issues Survey, the full report of which was published in February 2009.

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