Many Canadians are struggling to afford food as inflation and the high cost of living continue to erode purchasing power, and a new report suggests consumers are taking more risks with potentially unsafe food to avoid wasting it.

The report by Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, set to be released Thursday, found that almost 60 per cent of surveyed Canadians were more inclined to eat food close to or past its “best before date” due to the elevated price of groceries.

The lab’s director and author of the report told BNN Bloomberg that he started receiving calls months ago about an increase in people consuming food that may have been unsafe because they could not afford to replace it.

“We were wondering whether or not this was a national phenomenon due to higher food prices, and if people are actually taking on more risks at home while cooking,” said Sylvain Charlebois in a Tuesday interview.

“When you're preparing food, if you can't afford food and you can't afford to waste food, maybe some people are actually taking on some risk, and based on the evidence that we have now, it seems as though a lot of people are taking on more risk.”

Charlebois said that based on a survey this month of more than 9,000 Canadians, one in five said they believe to have fallen ill after eating food that was expired or close to expiring in the past year.

He said that as grocery prices remain high, Canadians are more careful with what they buy and what they ultimately throw away.

“People are spending more of their household disposable income on food than last year, and so the pressure is clearly there,” Charlebois said.

“People are very careful in terms of how they spend their money on food at the grocery store. So when they come home, they see food very differently than just a few years ago. They see it as an asset, making sure that they can actually use it optimally as much as possible.”

Charlebois said the “most alarming” findings from the survey were that Gen Z and millennial Canadians were the age groups most likely to believe they had gotten sick in the last year after consuming spoiled food.

“It makes sense a little because millennials are in their economic prime, so they are spending a lot and they are really the one group that has actually been impacted the most by inflation right now and higher interest rates,” he said.

“So I'm not overly surprised to see that happen because of what's going on with food inflation, but the bottom line is I think our relationship with food has changed, and therefore the way that people assess risks at home has also changed.”


The survey was conducted in April 2024 and included 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.