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Are Canadians getting sick from expired food?

Grocery affordability has become a national crisis, pushing some to rely on food that has passed its best-before date, according to a new study surveying Canadian eating habits. 

“It is really happening across the country,” said Dalhousie University Agri-Food Analytics Lab Professor Sylvain Charlebois, who published the food safety study that surveyed 9,109 Canadians.

“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.

Souls Harbour Rescue Mission, a Halifax community centre, feeds more than 600 people each day at several locations throughout Nova Scotia.

According to Cherry Claxton,the facility’s Chief Operating Officer, many of the people who eat at Souls Harbour often make desperate decisions when it comes to the food they eat.

“If their option is to eat a can of beans that expired four years ago, or to have two dollars to go buy a new one, it’s not an option for them,” said Claxton.

Halifax resident Albert Kinslow regularly consumes food he knows could be unsafe because he has no other choice.

“It is because of my meagre finances and myinability to find affordable food,” said Kinslow.

The study, broken down by age group, asked Canadians if they believed they ate food in the past year – that was on or past its best-before date – that possibly made them sick.

The results for those who said “yes” are as follows:

  • Generation Z: 10 per cent
  • Millennials, born 1980 to 1996: 41 per cent
  • Generation X, born 1965 to 1980: 24 per cent
  • Baby Boomers, born 1946 to 1964: 20 per cent
  • Canadians born before 1946: 10 per cent

Charlebois added when it comes to best before dates and expired food, many Canadians push the boundaries of safety and engage in risky eating habits that could lead to costly medicals bills.

“If you get sick it is going to cost you way more than that cabbage you didn’t throw out,” said Charlebois.

Methodology provided by Dalhousie University: 

The survey conducted in April 2024 and a total of 9,109 respondents. This number is both the weighted and unweighted total, indicating that each respondent was counted once in the analysis, and any adjustments made to ensure representativeness did not change the total count of respondents. The margin of error for the survey, assuming a 95 per cent confidence level, is approximately 1.92 per cent. This means that the results of the survey are expected to be within ±0.63 percentage points of what would have been obtained if the entire population had been surveyed, 95 times out of 100. 

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