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Are Consumers Engaging in Risky Food Behaviors Because of the Economy?

Posted in Food Insecurity,Our Blog on May 4, 2024

Are consumers engaging in risky food behaviors due to economic pressure? Several recent studies say yes. A study recently released in the United Kingdom and another in the United States show that consumers from both countries have been impacted by rising food costs.

These economic pressures have impacted the way they eat. Even increasing risky food behaviors in an effort to save a penny. Or a pound (UK).
United Kingdom Survey Shows Increased Risky Food Behavior in Response to Economic Pressure

A Wave 7 survey conducted by the Food Standards Agency surveyed consumers across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Concerns About the Rising Costs of Food

This 2023 survey identified that 55% of people across the surveyed areas were “highly concerned” about the affordability of food. This statistic rose from 48% the previous year. Another 34% indicated they were “somewhat concerned” about the affordability of food, making 9 out of 10 respondents (a combined 89%) worried about the costs of food.

Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the rising costs of food. This number is expected to increase again by next year.

This puts pressure on households who are already struggling.

About 25% of respondents reported some level of food insecurity (having limited or uncertain access to adequate food to feed themselves and their families). Fortunately, this number has not increased over the past year, however it remains the highest level of food insecurity since the survey began collecting data.

According to the survey, households with children, households with a lower income, younger adults, and those with long term health conditions were among groups more likely to report food insecurity.

Eating Habit Changes Due to Rising Cost of Food

Most United Kingdom respondents (80%) indicated that they had made changes to their eating habits over the previous 12 months. They cited financial reasons as the catalyst.

For some, this meant eating out less. In fact, nearly half of respondents indicated they ate out less for financial reasons (49%). The study found that 45% of respondents indicated eating at home more and 44% indicated they ate fewer takeaways for financial reasons in the previous 12 months.

The foods people choose to buy have also evolved based on economic concerns. More people are buying items on sale. The study found that 44% of respondents indicated that are selecting foods that are “on special offer” more frequently.

Increased Risky Food Behaviors

Rising costs of food and other economic pressures have some UK consumers have influenced incidence of risky food behaviors in an effort to save money.

The survey found that 21% of respondents have eaten food past its “use-by” date more often. It is important to note that a “use-by” date is different from a “best-by” date. A “best-by” date is an indication of the food’s limit to quality and taste. Not safety. A “use-by” date, on the other hand, indicates a limit for safety purposes. Consuming food beyond the “use-by” date is a risky food behavior and can potentially make you sick.

Some respondents (21%) indicated that they have kept leftovers for longer before eating. Presumably to prevent food waste. However, food left for more than 3 or 4 days in the fridge should always be discarded. Cold temperatures slow the growth of most harmful pathogens but do not stop them. The longer leftovers sit around, the more dangerous they become.

Speaking of refrigerators. The study found that 6% of respondents changed the setting on the refrigerator or freezer. Improper refrigeration temperatures leave food vulnerable and these risky food behaviors can put yourself and others at risk.

American Consumer Survey Indicates Similar Concerns About Economic Pressure

A 2022 survey conducted by The Harris Poll indicated that 90% of Americans are concerned about food prices.

For the first time in a while, the cost of groceries has surpassed the cost of gas as Americans’ top inflation concern.

Concerns About the Rising Costs of Food

“Initially concern was highest around gas prices, followed by groceries and other forms of discretionary spending,” said managing director at The Harris Poll, Abby Lunney. But groceries have not eclipsed that statistic, with the cost of groceries becoming top concern among Americans.

During the survey period, costs of food, both at home and away from home, were up 9.4 percent from the previous year. However, energy commodities (including all types of gasoline and fuel oil) were up 30.3% at the time of the study.

Shopping Habit Changes Due to Rising Cost of Food

In response to rising food costs, American’s shopping habits have recently changed.

Over half of respondents (52%) indicated taking fewer trips to the grocery store. Getting everything you need at one time reduces impulse buys and unnecessary items that make their way into shopping carts.

A significant 45% of respondents indicated they shop for generic brands. Opting for store brands to save money rather than the name brands can certainly save money over time.

More people are deciding to entertain at home rather than going out. In fact, 40% of respondents indicated they do this.

Buying in bulk is another way consumers stock up on savings. A third of survey respondents (33%) indicated they buy food in bulk.

Are Americans Engaging in Risky Food Behaviors in Response to Economic Pressures?

The American study did not evaluate risky food behaviors in survey questions. However, it is not a leap to believe Americans are not immune to the trend.

With rising food costs, people across the world are feeling the pressure.

Ways to Incorporate Safer Food Behaviors

Consumers can save money, and food, without engaging in risky food behaviors to make ends meet. A few simple tricks can stretch your food budget further.

Buy in Bulk and Repackage

For freezable items, buy food in bulk. Repackage in smaller containers (like freezer bags).

Pro tip: Flatten bag as much as possible and remove air. Remember to label and date the package so you always know what you have.

Make Plan-overs

Plan-overs are different from leftovers. Plan-overs are intentional extra meals that can be used as either complete meals or other ingredients for later recipes. When cooking a food that freezes well, make extra servings and keep them in the freezer. Pull them out as needed on days you don’t want to cook to reduce eating out.

Again, be sure to label and date the package.

Use the Whole Oven

If you are using the oven to make a particular dish, think about other items that can be cooked at that temperature at the same time. Baking chicken? Roast some garlic or potatoes at the same time. Pop them in the freezer for a later date, if desired. Reduce cooking costs, by making use of the whole oven.

There are so many ways to reduce food waste without engaging in risky food behaviors that may make you or your family sick.

Stay in Touch with Make Food Safe!

If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like “Are Consumers Engaging in Risky Food Behaviors Because of the Economy?”, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)