Food Standards Agency
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Research highlights food safety risks as budgets are stretched

New research published yesterday by the Food Standards Agency shows that some people are taking more risks with food safety as they try to save money and make their meals go further.

The research showed that most of those questioned (97%) believed the cost of their typical shopping basket has gone up significantly in the last three years, with half of these (47%) trying to make better use of leftover food. However, some people are ignoring 'use by' dates more than they used to, while others are keeping leftovers for longer than the recommended limit of two days in the fridge.

Yesterday was the start of Food Safety Week, and the FSA is reminding people not to take risks with food safety, even as budgets are squeezed.

Bob Martin, a food safety expert at the FSA, said: 'With most of us seeing our weekly shopping bills increase over the last few years, we are all looking for ways to get the most out of our shopping budget.

'Using leftover food is a good way of making our meals go further. However, unless we’re careful, there’s a chance we can risk food poisoning by not storing or handling them properly. During Food Safety Week we are encouraging people to view their fridge as their friend, and make the most of leftovers while staying safe.'

There are around a million cases of food poisoning every year in the UK. The levels increase during summer months, with around 120,000 extra cases of illness from June to August. One of the reasons is that warmer temperatures cause any germs present to grow faster, which underlines the importance of getting leftovers in the fridge quickly.

FSA advice

The FSA’s advice on leftovers is:

  • If you are going to store leftovers in the fridge, cool them as quickly as possible, ideally within 90 minutes. Cover them, get them in the fridge and then eat them within two days.
  • Make sure your fridge is operating at the correct temperature – it should be below 5°C.
  • You can also freeze your leftovers, but cool them first to minimise temperature fluctuation in your freezer. They can be safely stored in the freezer almost indefinitely, but the quality will deteriorate gradually with time, so it’s best to eat them within three months.
  • Make sure you defrost frozen leftovers properly before using them. If you’re going to cook them straightaway use a microwave. If you don’t have a microwave, defrost them in the fridge overnight.
  • Eat leftovers within 24 hours of defrosting and do not refreeze again. The only exception to this is if you are defrosting raw food, such as meat or poultry, which can be refrozen once it has been cooked.
  • Cook leftovers until steaming hot throughout.

Emma Marsh, Community Partnership Manager at the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, said: 'Making the most of the food we buy is increasingly important to us all, especially with ever tighter household budgets, but we’re still unnecessarily wasting 20% of the food we buy. Food is there to be eaten, so this Food Safety Week let’s enjoy our leftovers and do it safely. LoveFoodHateWaste.com has hundreds of tips, recipe ideas and inspiration to help us all waste less and save more.'

'Use by' dates

According to the FSA’s research, people are also risking food poisoning by ignoring 'use by' dates more than they used to. 'Use by' dates are the most important date on the food label. They are used on foods that can rapidly become unsafe, such as chilled or ready-to-eat foods.

Researchers found that a third of people were more likely to judge when food is safe to eat by its smell, look or how long it’s been stored, rather than by the 'use by' date.

Bob Martin says: 'It’s tempting to just give your food a sniff to see if you think it’s gone "off", but food bugs like E.coli and salmonella don’t cause food to smell off, even when they may have grown to dangerous levels. So food could look and smell fine but still be harmful.

'These dates provide helpful information on how long food will stay safe for, so it’s very important you stick to the "use by" date. Other dates marked on foods focus less on food safety. The "best before" date relates to food quality and can be treated more flexibly, while "display until" dates are there to help shop staff to manage stock.'

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