Irish families could be wasting €1,000 a year over confusion about food being safe to freeze

A survey in the UK revealed confusion around the safety of frozen food as households waste the equivalent of about six meals a week.

Irish families could be wasting as much as €1,000 a year because of confusion over certain foods being unsafe to freeze.

According to a new study carried out for consumers in the UK and likely to apply here also, more than half the food thrown out by households could have been safely eaten.

A waste food mountain of seven million tonnes represents the amount of food thrown out in the UK each year which could have been eaten, according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme, a charity that helps businesses and individuals reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way.

A poll for Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) revealed widespread confusion around the safety of frozen food as households waste the equivalent of about six meals a week.

According to the survey, some 43% of people think food should only be frozen on the day of purchase, rather than up until the use-by date, 38% incorrectly said it is dangerous to refreeze meat after it has been cooked, and more than a third (36%) wrongly believe that food can become unsafe to eat while in the freezer.

Irish families could be wasting €1,000 a year over confusion about food being safe to freeze

Almost a quarter (23%) said they would never freeze meat that was cooked after defrosting, with 73% of them saying this was due to worries about food poisoning.

More than two thirds of those surveyed (68%) had thrown food away in the past month, mainly bread (36%), fruit (31%), vegetables (31%) and leftover meals (22%).

As a result of the survey, the agency is to launch an urgent review of current guidance given to the food industry on date marking for food, which could include giving consumers more detailed and easy-to-understand advice on freezing and food storage.

“Every year, we throw away seven million tonnes of food and drink from our homes,” said Steve Wearne, director of policy at the FSA.

“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.”

Mr Wearne said the FSA’s research showed that “many of the fears the public has about freezing food are unfounded, and we need to ensure they know the facts. 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.”

His advice on quality accords with that given by Ireland’s equivalent organisation, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. It says that, as a general rule and to maintain the quality, food should not be stored in a freezer for longer then six months and that it should never be frozen beyond its ‘use-by’ date.

Irish families could be wasting €1,000 a year over confusion about food being safe to freeze

Safefood, the all-island food safety promotion board set up under the Good Friday Agreement, reassures consumers on safety and advises: “Freezing is a great way to store food. If food is properly frozen, there are no food safety concerns and the maximum length of time for storage of food in the freezer is a quality and not a food safety issue.”

The UK survey follows a campaign launched last week by the European Council to halve food waste over the next 14 years.

According to a council report, nearly nearly a third (1.3bn tonnes) of all the food produced in the EU is wasted each year.

This contributes 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions and costs the global economy around €800bn each year.

Cold facts

THE MYTH

There are many foods you cannot freeze.

THE FACT

You can freeze almost any kind of food safely. These include milk, potatoes, bread, fruit, chillies, and hard cheese. Soft cheese is an exception and should not be frozen.

However, Safefood Ireland advises that vegetables with high water content, like lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts and radishes, go limp after freezing.

THE MYTH

Food has to be frozen on the day it is bought.

THE FACT

Food can be frozen right up until its use-by or best before date.

THE MYTH

You should never re-freeze food

THE FACT

While food that has been defrosted should not generally be re-frozen, it can be done if you cook it first. Foods frozen raw, then thawed and cooked can be frozen again.

THE MYTH

You have to use frozen food within six months.

THE FACT

While the quality of food frozen begins to deteriorate after this period, it is still safe to eat. In fact, a good quality freezer can store food safely for years.

SAFEFOOD IRELAND ADVISES:

Freezing and defrosting meat

  • Freeze it before the ‘use by’ date
  • Check the label for any specific freezing or thawing instructions
  • Defrost meat on the bottom shelf of the fridge on a plate away from other foods. When meat thaws, lots of liquid can come out, which can spread bacteria to any food, plates or surfaces that it touches. Keep the meat covered so it can’t touch or drip onto other foods.
  • Only defrost meat in the microwave if you’re going to cook and eat it straight away.
  • The manufacturer’s instructions should be followed
  • Try to cook the raw meat within 24 hours of defrosting
  • As a rule of thumb, allow 24 hours to defrost each 2.5kg/5lbs of meat or chicken
  • If you defrost raw meat and then cook it thoroughly, you can freeze it again, but remember never to reheat foods more than once.

 


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