A poll taken by the British Food Standards Agency found that four out of five consumers have poor kitchen habits that put them at risk of food poisoning. According to the survey, 35% do not check “use by” dates before consuming food. Of that group, 85% decided if the food is safe by smelling it, while 68% look at the color to determine its safety.
Neither of those methods is a reliable indicator of food safety.
In addition, 43% of consumers do eat foods past their “use by” date (which differs from a “best before” date, relating to taste), 29% eat food that has dropped on the floor, and 36% wash chicken before cooking, which spreads bacteria around the kitchen. More than 20% of consumers don’t wash their hands before preparing food. Twenty-eight percent cut corners with food safety if in a hurry, 21% do so if they’re hungry, and 13% take shortcuts if they have been drinking.
At the same time, while 83% of consumers say that their habits could put them at risk of food poisoning, the same number said their food handling habits are fine. And 93% think they have never caused a food poisoning illness.
The statistics beg to differ. In the UK, 1 to 5 million people contract a foodborne illness every year, with 20,000 hospitalized and 500 killed. But only 20% of those who do become ill report it. In America, 1 in 6 Americans contract food poisoning every year, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 people die. The illness that most people think of as the “24 hour flu” is usually food poisoning.
Bob Martin, a food safety expert at the FSA said, “by not washing their hands before preparing food at home, or ignoring ‘use by’ dates, people could be setting themselves and their friends or family up for a bout of really unpleasant illness. It’s encouraging though to see that the majority of people are concerned about food safety.”