Resource Use

How using your freezer as a ‘pause button’ could help in the fight against food waste

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says freezers should be thought of as ‘pause buttons’ following a survey that showed many people have common misconceptions about freezing food.

How using your freezer as a ‘pause button’ could help in the fight against food waste
The results of the survey, in which 1,500 people were questioned about their freezing habits and opinions on food waste, were released as part of Food Safety Week, which runs from 4-10 July and this year is focused on freezer use.

The survey revealed that 68 per cent of respondents have thrown food away in the last month mostly due to concerns about safety of food past its use-by date. The FSA is using the survey results to highlight the fact that food can go further and food waste can be avoided by making better use of freezers.

A number of ‘myths’ contributing to the amount of food being wasted were also uncovered by the survey, including:

  • 43 per cent think food should only be frozen on the day of purchase to be safe;
  • 38 per cent believe it’s dangerous to refreeze meat after it has been cooked; and
  • 36 per cent think food can become unsafe to eat while in the freezer.

The survey also highlighted the freezing habits of respondents:

  • 68 per cent have thrown food away in the past month;
  • 30 per cent admit to throwing food away as they had bought too much;
  • 54 per cent say they feel guilty when they throw food away;
  • 90 per cent people say there are foods they would never freeze; and
  • 23 per cent of those surveyed would never freeze meat that was cooked after defrosting.

Bread (36 per cent), fruit (31 per cent), vegetables (31 per cent) and leftover meals (22 per cent) were the most commonly thrown away foods with the most common reason for doing so being that the food is past its ‘use-by’ date.

Of those that said they wouldn’t freeze meat that had been defrosted prior to cooking, 73 per cent said it was due to concerns about food poisoning.

Understanding potential of freezer could be ‘significant step’ in tackling food waste

Reflecting on the results of the survey, Steve Wearne, Director of Policy at the FSA, commented: “The freezer is like a pause button, so you can freeze foods right up to the 'use-by' date. 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.

“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. Thirty-one per cent 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.”

While food safety does not deteriorate over time in the freezer, the quality of the product can and so the FSA recommends consuming all frozen products within three to six months and following guidance on product packaging.

In response to the survey, the FSA is planning a review of guidance provided to the food industry and possibly also consumers on the date marking of food. This will be performed in collaboration with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

Helen White, food waste expert for WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign, said: “In the UK, each household wastes the equivalent of about six meals a week, which is bad for our pockets and the planet!

“Reducing food waste is a big challenge, so the Love Food Hate Waste campaign is delighted to lend its support to Food Safety Week, which aims to raise awareness of this important issue. Freezing food is one of the little things we can all do to make a big difference and the best bit is that most foods can be frozen – even those you wouldn't expect!”

More guidance on how to freeze food safely to avoid food waste can be found at the Food Standards Agency’s website.