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More Than 1 in 3 Singaporeans Are Okay With Eating Expired Food

Wonderwall.sg logo Wonderwall.sg 16/8/2022 Diane Lam & Farhan Shafie
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PHOTO: 123RF

Would you eat food that is past its expiry date? According to a survey conducted by Etiqa Singapore, 34% percent of Singaporeans would, while 41% of Singaporeans would not. 

(After all, “expired” doesn’t mean “spoilt”, and those polled answered in the affirmative as long as the food wasn't more than three days past the recommended throw-out date.) 

But this proved to be a contentious topic in-office, as my colleague, Farhan, and I threw out the question to our teammates. Of the six of us, five answered “yucks no”, with only one - that person being me - answering that it's okay as long as the food doesn’t smell funny. 

It also depended on the type of food - bread or cereal that was a few days past its expiry date could still be edible, but meat and dairy? Not a chance. (Farhan says: “For me, not really. I’m pretty careful what I consume and try to cook on the spot or eat fresh food. Perhaps only tuna cans but then again those can last for a long time, right? Wait, that’s correct, right?”)

Granted, our team is a far smaller sample size than the survey’s group of 1,000 Singaporeans, but we were still surprised that a third of people would eat expired food given our office’s vehement stance against it, even if it were only slightly expired. 

Etiqa’s survey, which was conducted to shed light on the dietary habits and nutrition literacy levels of Singaporeans across different demographics post-pandemic, also revealed some interesting attitudes about snacking, health labels, and healthy eating habits as a whole. 

Below, Farhan and I discuss the other key findings: 

1. COVID has changed us

76% of Singaporeans have become more diet-conscious post-pandemic

Farhan:  Is it embarrassing to say that I can’t relate? Perhaps I’m in the minority but I must confess my eating habits might have worsened since being on full-time WFH. Perhaps it’s the irregular eating time or the fact that Grab is just there at my convenience but I’ve definitely slacked on my eating discipline. But I would say I am more health-conscious in the sense that I regularly make it a point to exercise much more consistently. But I love food too much, urrrgh.

Diane: I’ve definitely become more diet and nutrition-conscious, thanks to having more time to read up on such things, but I wouldn’t say that it’s translated into action for me either. 

2. No action, talk only?

Although 93% of Singaporeans are aware that their current eating habits will impact their health in the future, only 54% of Singaporeans consider their diets healthy and balanced most of the time. 

Diane: Well, there it is. I think we all know that we may pay the price for our bad eating habits down the road, but nowadays, there’s so much information out there that it’s hard to choose what’s actually good for us and what isn’t! For instance, a couple of years ago, oat milk was touted as a healthy alternative to dairy, but now there’s a growing movement of people who say that oat milk is bad for us. I’d say that most of us know we could be eating better, and would like to make more educated decisions, we just don’t know where to begin. 

Farhan: If I could rate my eating habits out of 10, I would say it’s a disappointing 4/10. There’s definitely room for improvement there haha! I know, I know. I fall in the 46% whose diets are still severely lacking. I’m still a work in progress, give me a chance please.

3. Singapore is a nation of snackers

98% of Singaporeans were found to snack, with one in two being “frequent snackers”, i.e. snacking 3 times or more a week. Some 60% of Singaporeans regularly reach for unhealthy snacks such as chips, crackers, chocolates, cakes, and sweets. 

Diane: I was surprised that snacking “three times or more per week” constitutes frequent snacking. How about three or more times a day?! Does bubble tea count as a snack? Anecdotally, I’d say that most of the people around me snack more as a coping mechanism than out of hunger, and it’s simply more convenient and satisfying to munch on a pack of chips rather than on cut fruit. Farhan, would you consider yourself a snacker? 

Farhan: Weirdly enough, I don’t think I am. I can go hours without eating. But when I do, you better shut the front door, the inner eating monster in me will be unleashed. So yeah, I really prefer my three big meals a day. If I had to choose a snack however, you can’t go wrong with almond nuts. My guilty pleasure would me coconut milkshakes. I blame Mr Coconut for this!

4. Most of us read health labels

Almost half of respondents across all age groups will read either health labels or nutrition facts. 67% of Singaporeans actively consume foods for disease prevention and protection

Diane: Be honest now, do you read the health labels on your food? I usually do, but I’m curious to what extent Singaporeans choose food based on label content. 

Farhan: Not really, unless I’m counting calories when I meal prep, which again is not frequent enough. Gym-goers will tell you to download the MyFitnessPal app, which helps to scan health labels and track your calorie intake. So yes, I do have the app but no, I haven’t been religiously practising this.

As far as consuming healthier foods go, I usually get my daily protein from either chicken, tuna or eggs. So I will incorporate at least one or more of these food items in my meals. I can’t go a day without rice but I try my best to mix my brown rice with my white. In terms of vegetables, I don’t mind steamed broccoli or mushroom, so I’ll have that as well to feel less guilty. When I’m really lazy, I order Macs hahah.

5. What’s our preferred source of information? 

58% of Singaporeans rely on word of mouth to gain knowledge of nutrition, while also gleaning advice from magazines and social media. This is followed by official channels from the government and medical experts.

Diane: By “word of mouth”, do they mean WhatsApp? Also, colour me surprised by the fact that people still read magazines or turn to them for health advice, amidst all the articles being posted and forwarded nowadays. 

Information fatigue is very real, so for now, I keep it simple by eating everything in moderation and following Gov.sg’s recommendations. I also try to get regular health checkups and follow the recommendations of my GP. How about you, Farhan? 

Farhan: Weirdly enough, TikTok! I rely on that a lot for meal prep ideas and they usually state the nutritional value so that helps a lot. It’s also a great visual aid. I agree word of mouth is important so choose carefully who you seek advice from. I worked with a personal trainer earlier this year and she was a great help in terms of educating me about dieting.

So there you have it. The majority of Singaporeans (not necessarily us) are actively consuming foods that prevent and protect from diseases. The universal best practices remain such as eating a balanced meal, avoiding high cholesterol, high sugar, or high sodium foods, and enjoying a variety of food in moderation. 

Prevention is always better than cure so it’s never too late to start adopting a healthier diet. Those late night hunger pangs are real but so is the threat of potential diseases brought about from unhealthy eating. So weigh your choices again the next time you head out to makan.

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