Sunday, January 13, 2008

Food for thought.

We are all too familiar with the high prices here in Ireland, especially when we compare them with prices when away on holidays in other countries. A survey by Eurostat last year found that food prices here are at least 25% above the European average. Bread and cereals are 21% dearer, meat is 29% more expensive and fruit and vegetables prices are 30% higher.

So what is the hard pressed Irish consumer supposed to do to cut their grocery bills. Well apart from looking at the cost of food, perhaps consumers need to look at what they buy and actually what they eat and throw away. A UK study earlier this year found that households there threw away about a third of all the food they bought.

I know myself when I am in a hurry, I rush around the supermarket to buy one or two items as I have nothing in the house to eat. I forget to write up a shopping list and somehow end up with a lot more than I planned. It seems that many of us are especially fond of those special offers. The 3 chicken breasts for the price of 2 offers, even though we are not sure we need them, they just seem like great value. Five days later in many cases we end up throwing out all that extra stuff out because they have gone past the sell by date. And while many consumers are getting more price sensitive, very few of us are really conscious of the cost of the stuff we throw away. One way to counteract this is to draw up a list of what you need before you go shopping and perhaps also take note of what you throw away. That way you can avoid buying what you don't need and keep track of items you buy but often throw out. Action here is not only good for the pocket, but for the environment too.

Basil the Rat-Fawlty Towers mix version.

Apart from high food costs, consumers are also concerned about food safety, so it was disappointing to hear this week from the FSAI that the number of food safety enforcement orders increased by 54% in 2007. The official health statistics show that a few thousand people suffer from food poisoning each year, although the real figure is probably much higher given many cases go unreported. We also know that some people die as a result of food poisoning, so this is a very serious issue. Many food retailers and businesses operate to very high standards, well beyond the minimum standards set down. However these figures show that there are some who play loose and fast with the health of their customers.

I commend the work of the Food Safety Authority and HSE in investigating and where necessary prosecuting, closing down and naming these food outlets, which not only endanger the health and lives of consumers, but damage the food industry in Ireland. We all laughed at Basil the Rat in Fawlty Towers, buts it not so funny when you get food poisoning.