Confusion around frozen food and use-by dates is resulting in large amounts of food waste every year, according to new research from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
“Our research shows that many of the fears the public has about freezing food are unfounded and we need to ensure they know the facts,” said Steve Wearne, director of policy at the FSA.
“31% of the people we spoke to said that more information about how to safely freeze food would help them to reduce their food waste.”
To help you understand the dos and don’ts of freezing, the FSA has released some handy tips and tricks so you know when to eat it and when to bin it.
Myth 1: You can only freeze certain foods
Freezing acts as a “pause button”, so you can freeze pretty much everything.
According to the FSA, it’s totally safe to freeze food up until the use-by date.
This includes meats and meals cooked from previously cooked and frozen meat (i.e. your roast chicken leftovers).
Once the food is defrosted, the pause button is “off”. So you will need to eat the food within 24 hours.
Myth 2: Freezing kills germs
This is a common misunderstanding. Most types of bacteria survive freezing, however they do become inactive while the product is frozen, due to the low temperature and lack of available water.
Frozen food will, therefore, keep indefinitely. Although the taste or texture of the food can deteriorate over time due to ice crystal damage.
When food defrosts, its core temperature rises and water becomes available, providing the ideal conditions for bacteria to grow.
This is why its best to defrost food slowly and safely, preferably overnight in the fridge – because the warmer the temperature, the more active bacteria become.
Myth 3: You can’t freeze food the day before its use-by date
Many people believe food can only be frozen on the day of purchase, however you can safely freeze most foods right up to the use-by date.
The FSA does however recommend that you freeze food as soon as you know you aren’t going to use it before its use-by date expires.
Myth 4: You can’t freeze cooked meats (including chicken)
You can freeze raw and cooked meats and even cook defrosted meat into a new meal and freeze for use on another day.
Myth 5: Food goes off in the freezer
It’s recommended that you should keep food in the freezer for between three and six months, maximum.
However that doesn’t necessarily mean it will go off.
Frozen food does not go off, but it does deteriorate in quality. As such, if you want to store things like meat for longer, you should marinate it before cooking to improve texture or use herbs and spices to add flavour.
There is a nationwide issue with misconceptions surrounding freezing food.
According to a FSA survey, 43% of those interviewed believe that food should only be frozen on the day of purchase to be safe.
Meanwhile 38% said it is dangerous to refreeze meat after it has been cooked, which is incorrect.
Just over one third, 36%, wrongly believed that food could become unsafe to eat while in the freezer.
The FSA released its research to coincide with Food Safety Week (4-10 July).
They said that more than two thirds (68%) of the people they surveyed have thrown food away in the past month, with bread (36%), fruit (31%), vegetables (31%) and leftover meals (22%) topping the list.
The most common reason given for throwing food away is that it is past its use-by date.
The FSA has announced that it will be launching a review of the guidance provided to the food industry on date marking on food. This will include consideration for whether the remit of the guidance should be expanded to cover food storage and freezing advice for consumers.
Steve Wearne, director of policy at the FSA, said: “Every year, we throw away seven million tonnes of food and drink from our homes.
“Much of this waste is unnecessary, and a better understanding of how to freeze food safely could go a significant way towards tackling the problem.
“Our research shows that many of the fears the public has about freezing food are unfounded and we need to ensure they know the facts. 31% of the people we spoke to said that more information about how to safely freeze food would help them to reduce their food waste – that’s why freezing is the focus of this year’s Food Safety Week.
“The freezer is like a pause button, so you can freeze foods right up to the ‘use-by’ date. While food is kept safe in the freezer, it’s the quality that deteriorates over time, so we recommend eating it within three to six months and checking for any freezing instructions on the packaging.
“Once defrosted, the pause button is off, so defrost food as and when you need it and eat it within 24 hours of it being fully defrosted.”