How to stop food waste – and save money
In the UK we throw away seven million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, most of which could have been eaten. What’s more, wasting this food costs the average household £470 a year.
This week (4-10 July) is Food Safety Week and the theme is ‘Eat it, cook it, freeze it’.
We ask Steve Wearne from the Food Standards Agency to answer the most common questions around freezing and use-by dates to help you make your food – and your bank balance – go further safely.
1 What’s the difference between use-by and ‘best before’ dates?
use-by dates are the most important ones to consider, as these relate to food safety. Most foods can be frozen up until the use-by date, but not after. ‘Best before’ dates are about quality, not safety. When the date is passed, it doesn’t mean the food will be harmful, but it might begin to lose its flavour and texture.
2 It smells fine…can I still eat it?
Food can look and smell fine even after its use-by date, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat. It could still be contaminated. You cannot see, smell or taste the bugs that cause food poisoning, so don’t trust the sniff test!
3 How long can I freeze things for and what about the use-by date?
Foods can be stored safely in a correctly-functioning freezer for years without going off. The freezer is like a pause button, so you can freeze foods right up to the use-by date, not just on the day of purchase.
While food is kept safe in the freezer, it’s the quality that deteriorates over time, so we recommend consumption within three to six months to ensure the best quality, and check for any freezing instructions on the packaging.
Once defrosted, the pause button is off, so it’s best to defrost food as required and eat within 24 hours of it being fully defrosted.
4 Can you freeze raw and cooked meats?
You can cook defrosted meat into a new meal and freeze for use on another day. Simply defrost overnight in the fridge (be careful that raw meat doesn’t drip on any other foods in the fridge and check it is thoroughly defrosted), use within 24 hours and cook until steaming hot.
5 What’s the best way to store food in the freezer?
It is best to place food in an air tight container or wrap food well in foil, freezer paper or cling film before placing in the freezer otherwise the cold air will dry it out. Try to expel any air from freezer bags and label everything clearly so you don’t have to rummage in the cold.
TOP TIP: Did you know you can freeze milk? Just be sure to always take a bit out of the container before freezing to create an expansion gap and give it a good shake once defrosted.