• 56% of Brits agree that it is safe to eat food past its best before date
  • 28% agree it is safe to eat food past its use by date
  • 50% say they would trust a food or drink brand more if it had a clear label from a food quality assurance scheme
  • 44% say that more detailed ingredient information on the pack, such as where ingredients are sourced and how they were used, would encourage trust

When it comes to food safety, new research from Mintel shows that consumers aren’t slaves to best before and use by dates. In a study of 1500 UK consumers, two thirds (67%) say they rely on their own senses, such as smell, taste and sight, rather than use by or best before dates to decide if a product is still suitable to eat.

What’s more, just half (56%) agree that it’s safe to eat food past it’s best before date, even though this is a guideline for food quality rather than safety. On the other hand, Mintel’s research shows that a worrying one in four (28%) say it’s safe to eat food past its use by date, even though doing so could put their health at risk.

And it seems consumers have a limited interest in finding out more about food and drink safety themselves. Just a third (35%) of Brits say they speak to their friends and family about concerns they have over food and drink product safety and only a quarter (28%) say they have searched for information on the internet relating to a food and drink safety concern. Despite this, they are keen to learn more on this subject from producers, half (47%) would like brands and supermarkets to provide more advice on how to store food safely.

56% of Brits agree that it is safe to eat food past its best before date

Douglas Faughnan, Senior Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel, said:

“The lack of understanding and apparent disregard for use by and best before date labels is problematic on two fronts – consumer safety and food waste. Part of the problem may be down to consumer confusion around what the different terms on-pack mean, with the likes of “use by”, “best before” and “display until” apparently not clear or distinct enough. Our findings underline the scope for operators to win favour by combatting such misconceptions and helping households to save money by reducing food waste. The openness from consumers to greater involvement from supermarkets and brands on how to store food safely further highlights the potential role for them in offering advice on shelf-life.”

Despite the low proportion of consumers actively seeking out information on food safety, it seems there is anxiety amongst consumers about the contamination of food. Mintel’s research finds that the majority (85%) of Brits are concerned about the presence of harmful bacteria in food and drink and the same proportion (85%) say the lack of hygiene standards in food production and processing are a concern. Furthermore, over three quarters (77%) of consumers are concerned about the use of hormones in livestock, and 75% say they’re worried about antibiotics or medicine given to livestock.

“Hygiene standards throughout the supply chain are high on the list of consumer concerns, highlighting the need for brands to reassure wherever they can. Retailers with a strong rating could benefit from displaying the results of food hygiene or food safety checks on premises. Manufacturers could similarly win favour by featuring these on-pack, as a way of proving their commitment to high standards of hygiene and to allay concerns.” Douglas comments.

Mintel’s research also shows that there are other steps manufacturers and brands can take to encourage trust amongst consumers. Half (50%) of Brits say they would trust a food or drink company or brand more if it had a clear label from a food quality assurance scheme while the same proportion (50%) say they would have more trust if clear packaging was used, so they can see what is inside.

Additionally, 44% say that more detailed ingredient information on the pack, such as where ingredients are sourced and how they were used, would encourage trust, whilst a third (33%) would have added trust if there was the name of the farmer or producer on-pack.

“Operators that can demonstrate high levels of transparency and control at various stages of the supply chain can create a strong point of difference. Focusing on the ‘real people’ at various stages of the supply chain, in addition to farmers, can help combat the lack of trust.” Douglas concludes.

Press review copies of the Consumers’ Food Safety Concerns UK 2015 report and interviews with Senior Food and Drink analyst, Douglas Faughnan, are available on request from the press office

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