Canadians Consuming Expired Food to Cope With Rising Grocery Prices

Survey results show Canadians turning to expired food to combat rising grocery costs, risking health issues.
Canadians Consuming Expired Food to Cope With Rising Grocery Prices
July 8, 2024

In light of recent increases in grocery prices, Canadians are facing new challenges in maintaining food safety. Research conducted by Dalhousie University's Agri-Food Analytics Lab has sparked a conversation about the risks of consuming food that has gone beyond its best-before date—a practice becoming more common as consumers try to stretch their budgets.

Health risks of expired food

Consuming food that has gone beyond its intended shelf life can lead to health risks, including food-borne illnesses that can cause anything from minor discomfort to hospitalization or even death. It is a practice that is particularly risky for vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

Consumer behavior

With the cost of living on the rise, many are making tough choices at the grocery store, opting for discounted items that are close to or past their best-before dates. Dalhousie University’s study reveals a shift in consumer behavior driven by economic pressure, which could have long-term health implications.

"It is really happening across the country," said Dalhousie University Agri-Food Analytics Lab Professor Sylvain Charlebois, who published the food safety study.

"The findings reveal 58 per cent are more enticed to eat food that would have the best before date either on that day or after," he said, adding that eating potentially spoiled food to save money is dangerous.

"Take, for example, animal proteins. I would be very careful," Charlebois warned.

Key findings

The survey was conducted in April 2024, with 9,109 Canadians providing responses. Here are three key findings:

  1. Prevalence of consuming expired foods: The study found that about 45 percent of Canadians have eaten food past its best-before date in the last year, with a significant number doing so due to cost of living.
  2. Age group differences: Millennials are particularly prone to this practice, with over 50% reporting they regularly consume food past its recommended consumption date.
  3. Health concerns: This trend raises concerns about potential health risks, including an increased likelihood of food-borne illnesses, which could place further strain on healthcare services.

Strategies for safe consumption

First of all, it is crucial to understand the difference between "best before" and "use by" dates. "Best before" dates generally indicate peak quality rather than safety, whereas "use by" dates are more critical from a health perspective. The Canadian Institute of Food Safety explains the differences in more detail here.

Below are three essential tips for avoiding sickness caused by the consumption of expired food items:
  1. Prioritize proper storage: Ensure that your food is stored correctly to extend its freshness and safety.
  2. Understand food labels: Educate yourself about what date labels on food really mean and make informed choices.
  3. Plan purchases wisely: Buy quantities you can realistically consume before expiration and consider preserving techniques like freezing.

Navigating These Challenging Times

With expired food consumption becoming the norm in Canada, it is more important than ever that better food affordability strategies and public education campaigns are put in place to help consumers make safer choices without compromising their health due to financial constraints.

As consumers navigate these challenging times, being informed and cautious can help mitigate the risks associated with food consumption. Ensuring food safety is a shared responsibility that requires attention from individuals, communities, and policymakers alike.