The dangers lurking in our cupboards

Posted on: 23 May 2014 by Gareth Hargreaves

Out-of-date foods and medicines lurking in our cupboards

It seems we are a nation of complete hoarders when it comes to the contents of our cupboards, a new survey commissioned by Healthspan reveals. It seems Brits hoard everything from old vitamins to cough medicines as well as kitchen essentials with under a fifth admitting they hadn’t cleaned out their medicine cabinets for at least five years. The average kitchen cupboard is stocked up with 57 items, 13 of which are suspected of being out-of-date.

The study commissioned by vitamin company Healthspan to support the launch of their new foil sealed for freshness packaging line, found that items such as condiments, tinned food, dressings, dips, herbs, spices, and stock cubes, as well as medicines and vitamins are the most likely to be hoarded and to be out-of-date. Nearly a fifth of people claim they don’t even bother checking the dates before they purchase, use or even eat a product.

Dr Sarah Brewer GP & nutritionist says: “Always check use-by-dates. In most cases an out-of-date supplement won’t cause any harm, however, the levels of vitamins will be reduced and in the case of herbals, the level of active plant substances will have deteriorated and the doses will no longer supply the same benefits. Don't panic, foil-sealed medicines and vitamins will generally keep fresher for longer than those supplied in a bottle or tub.”

Robert Hobson, Registered Nutritionist at Healthspan said: “Keeping food fresh is key especially if we are to retain the goodness and nutrient value as well as not becoming ill by eating out-of-date foods such as uncooked meats. As well as foods, vitamins and supplements also need to be kept fresh, so purchase products that are in foil sealed packaging.”

What's out of date in Britain's larder

  Condiments   Tomato puree  
  Tinned food   Dried pasta  
  Dressings anddips   Potatos  
  Herbs and spices   Mayonniase  
  Vegetables   Cooked meats  
  Stock cube   Olives  
  Frozen foods   Tea and coffee  
  Pickle   Piccalilli  
  Fruit   Cooked meats  
  Eggs   Vitamins  

Robert Hobson Healthspan’s Head of Nutrition provides the following tips for keeping things fresh:

Fruit bowlTips on how to keep fruit & veg fresh 

  1. If you have lots of bananas that are about to become over-ripe then peel them, place in a plastic bag and store in the freezer. They make a delicious ‘ice-cream’ when simply thrown alone, frozen in a blender for 5 minutes.
  2. Freeze other fruits to retain freshness for smoothies.
  3. If you have vegetables that are starting to lose their freshness and you think they are not going to get eaten try to turning into dips along with pulses, herbs, olive oil and lemon juice. You will easily get another few days worth of valuable nutrition out of them.
  4. Try and keep fruits stored somewhere cool and dark to help retain as much of the vitamin C as possible as this nutrient is easily lost through heat and light.

herbs and spicesTips on kitchen storage advice e.g. herbs and spices:

  1. Most herbs and spices keep their freshness for around one year and up to three years for seeds and bark spices
  2. Store out of direct sunlight in a kitchen cupboard!
  3. Do not store in a fridge - herbs and spices do not do not like being stored in humid conditions
  4. You can store herbs and spices in air tight containers and if you have bought something that you know you won’t use frequently then freeze half and keep for up to a year


Out of date medicines

Top tips to look for when taking medicines / vitamins 

  1. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your prescribed medicines and traditional herbal remedy or the on-pack instructions for supplements as these will tell you how to store them correctly
  2. Always check use-by dates on all products 
  3. Make sure lids on medicine are unopened and sealed
  4. Look for medicine and supplements that are foil sealed and are therefore tamper proof 
  5. If you are no longer sure of the use by date then consider discarding the medicine and throwing out supplements

Contact your local pharmacy if unsure or speak to the manufacturer 

Tips on out-of-date medicines:

  • Don’t take them if you are not sure and you no longer have the packaging and patient information
  • The English Pharmacy Board recommends taking any out-of-date medicines to a local pharmacy who will dispose of them safely
  • If you have taken out-of-date medication then contact your pharmacist or a medical practitioner


Canned foodsTips on eating out-of-date food:

Every day, 1.3million unopened yogurt pots are reportedly put in the bin as well as five million potatoes, a million loaves of bread, a million slices of ham, and 440,000 ready meals. The average family with children bins food worth £680 a year.

  1. There’s a trend now and even out-of –date cafes are opening her in the UK. Even eggs 3 – 5 weeks out-of-date are fine as long as they are stored in temperatures of below 5C
  2. Use your taste and smell sensibly to asses food
  3. Eating out-of-date /best used by food generally will not cause any real harm but it is possible the nutrient value of the food decreases
  4. Meet and cheese should be eating with a week of the best used by date and realistically 3 weeks if the temperature is maintained and it has been sealed
  5. Frozen meat, poultry and fish can last up to three years frozen if stored correctly
  6. If you do eat food that is gone off you will most probably start to feel sick and then vomit and your body will rid itself of the food. Any concerns consult a medical practitioner

Are you a food hoarder? Do you ignore sell by dates? Let us know in the comment section below or in 50connect forums.

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