Misconceptions about how to freeze food safely are contributing to food waste in the West Midlands and across the UK, according to new research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The research – released as part of Food Safety Week – identified a number of freezing ‘myths’ that are preventing people in the West Midlands from using their freezers to make food go further. 52% of those interviewed in the region think that food should only be frozen on the day of purchase to be safe; 43% incorrectly said it is dangerous to refreeze meat after it has been cooked; and 26% wrongly believe that food can become unsafe to eat while in the freezer.

Two thirds (66%) of the people surveyed in the West Midlands have thrown food away in the past month, with fruit (32%), vegetables (32%), bread (30%) and leftover meals (21%) topping the list. The most common reason given for throwing food away is that it is past its ‘use by’ day, cited by over a third (37%) of respondents in the West Midlands. 32% admit to throwing food away as they had bought too much and didn’t eat it, and almost half (46%) say they feel guilty when they throw food away. However, the reasons given can all be avoided by making better use of the freezer.

In response, the FSA is focusing this year’s Food Safety Week on helping people to understand how to waste less food safely by making more of their freezers. Furthermore, the FSA, working with Defra and WRAP, 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. 

The research also found that 92% of people in the West Midlands say there are foods they would never freeze. Over a quarter (27%) of those surveyed would never freeze meat that was cooked after defrosting.

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. 27% of the people we spoke to in the West Midlands 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.”

Helen White, food waste expert at Love Food Hate Waste, 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! For more fantastic freezer facts, visit lovefoodhatewaste.com”