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Survey finds little change in consumer food safety behavior during pandemic

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Trends in food safety and hygiene behaviors in the home have remained stable during the coronavirus pandemic, according to research published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The findings come from a round-up of a monthly survey that monitors attitudes, experiences and behaviors of consumers in relation to food during the COVID-19 pandemic. It covered England, Wales and Northern Ireland from April 2020 to March 2021. For each poll, Ipsos MORI surveyed 2,000 adults aged 16 to 75 living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In March 2021, 53 percent of participants reported they do not always check use-by dates when they cook or prepare food. This figure was stable across all months.

In the same month, 45 percent reported eating cheese past the use-by date, 46 percent did this with bagged salads, 38 percent for milk, 39 percent for cooked meats and 21 percent for smoked fish.

Analysis of data shows that those who cut or skipped meals for financial reasons were significantly more likely to report they or someone in their household had eaten bagged salad, cheese, cooked meat, milk and smoked fish past its use-by date, compared to those who hadn’t skipped or cut down meals because of money.

Sources of buying food
At least 30 percent of respondents who cook went against public health advice and washed raw chicken always or most of the time across all surveys. More than 20 percent of adults who cook never use different chopping boards for preparation of different foods such as raw meat and fresh vegetables.

From April 2020 to January 2021, 7 percent or 8 percent of respondents reported using Facebook marketplace to purchase food, except for 4 percent in August. The question was then changed to include other online sites such as Etsy, Gumtree, Instagram and Nextdoor. In February 2021, 14 percent reported using one of these marketplaces to purchase food, increasing to 16 percent in March this year.

More than half of those surveyed reported purchasing food from takeaways either direct or online in each month, whilst between 33 percent and 43 percent bought from an online food ordering company such as Just Eat or Uber Eats.

More than a quarter of people said they were concerned about the quality of food produced in the UK in March 2021 whilst half said this about food quality from outside the UK.

About one in five said they had concerns about the food they eat at the moment. The most common issue was healthiness of food in their diet followed by animal welfare. Other topics included food poisoning and food fraud or crime.

Emily Miles, FSA chief executive, said: “Across a whole year of collecting this data we have seen that young people and households with children are amongst those most affected by food insecurity, which unfortunately has gradually increased since the lower levels we saw last summer.”

Scotland’s experience 
The same type of survey was done in Scotland. Food Standards Scotland (FSS) said there haven’t been any consistent changes in food safety behaviors since the monthly tracker began in April 2020.

In March, 36 percent reported eating cheese past the use-by date, 34 percent did this with bagged salads, 30 percent for milk, 31 percent for cooked meats and 14 percent for smoked fish.

Ipsos MORI interviewed 508 adults aged 16 to 75 living in Scotland online in March.

A quarter of people said they always or most of the time washed raw chicken while 17 percent said they never use different chopping boards for different foods. Half of respondents check use-by dates when about to cook or prepare food.

Only 8 percent said they had purchased food through an online marketplace in the past month. A third had a delivery from an online ordering company like Deliveroo, Just Eat or Uber Eats in the past four weeks.

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