This piece was written by one of our contributors; Environmental Health Practitioner – Jenna Brown.
Whether you’ve remained working as a key worker, have been placed on furlough, sadly lost your job, shut down your business, or are simply working at home, there’s no doubt that every single one of us has been impacted in one way or another by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Whilst there’s not much ‘good news’ when we refer to Coronavirus, there is good news that there is currently NO evidence of the virus being transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging (1)! However, with the closure of bars and restaurants and subsequent lockdowns, a
lot of us have been spending a lot more time at home in 2020 than ever before which naturally means a lot more cooking!
With approximately 70% of UK food waste coming from our homes (2), more home cooked meals are a great opportunity for us all to play our part in reducing food wastage. Understandably, you may be looking at ways to make the most of the food you have, and some extra time on your hands may even find you wanting to stock up the freezer!
So, here’s some tips to help you have confidence in your cooking, as well as some tips to help reduce your food wastage safely!
Organise your fridge
First things first, start with organising your fridge. Knowing how to store food once you get it home from the supermarket and organise your fridge correctly will help you avoid food poisoning by reducing the risk of cross contamination between raw and ready to eat foods as well as helping you to reduce food wastage.
DID YOU KNOW…
The average household with children could save around £60 per month by reducing their food waste and saving food that could have been eaten from being thrown away?! (2)
So, how exactly should you organise your fridge and what else do you
need to know to help keep the food in your fridge safer for longer?
- Most importantly, check the temperature of your fridge! To reduce the risk of food poisoning, make sure your fridge is running between 1-5ºC. If your fridge doesn’t have a built-in thermometer, then you can check this using a fridge thermometer or a food probe!
- Organise your fridge to make sure you store raw meat and fish separately from ready to eat foods. The best place to store raw meat and raw fish is the bottom shelf – not only does this prevent cross contamination of juices dripping onto other foods below, but this is also the coldest part of the fridge
- Keep cooked and ready to eat foods higher up, saving the doors for lower risk products such as condiments, jams and juices as the doors are most at risk of temperature fluctuations
- Store eggs in the fridge – for safety and freshness, the ideal place to store eggs at home is in the fridge as this ensures eggs are stored at a constant temperature below 20ºC.
- First in – first out: When returning from the supermarket, put new foods at the back so using older products first will come naturally!
- And don’t forget to also keep an eye on packs in the fridge that have been opened! Opening a product with a use by date (more on these next); such as ham or milk, will change the shelf life and usually mean it needs to be used within the next few days, or popped in the freezer.
Know the difference between use by & best before dates
It’s important to be aware of the difference between ‘use by’ dates and ‘best before’ dates.
Put simply, ‘use by’ dates are there for your safety and mustn’t be ignored whereas, ‘best before’ dates are about quality.
Whilst food is safe to eat past its ‘best before’ date (but might not taste as good), food past its ‘use by’ date is not safe to eat as you often can’t tell if a food is unsafe by its appearance, smell or taste, so it’s not worth the risk!
LOVE your leftovers!
No matter what your current schedule looks like, reheating leftovers is ALWAYS a good idea! As a rule of thumb, leftover food can be kept in the fridge and used within 2 days (1 day for rice) but if you want longer than this, then pop your leftovers in the freezer.
Regardless of what you have cooked, it’s important to make sure you cool hot leftovers as quickly as possible, ideally within an hour and a half as you want the food to be cold within 2 hours of cooking.
There are lots of things you can do to help speed up the cooling of food such as dividing into smaller portions, using an ice bath, or stirring regularly!
Not sure what you can freeze?!
The good news is, it is perfectly safe to cook or freeze food right up until (and including!) the use by date. So, if you’re not going to use something before it’s use-by date, either pop it in the freezer or cook it up and use the leftovers within the next 2 days.
Don’t be put off freezing your raw foods as this has no impact on being able to freeze the leftovers!
DID YOU KNOW…
Even if you use previously frozen raw meat when cooking, you can still portion and freeze the cooked leftovers to reheat another day?!
How long can food stay in the freezer?
Avoid panic buying! Stocking up your freezer is great for the environment by reducing food wastage and also great for a quick meal to grab on a busy day.
Whilst it is recommended that food within the freezer is eaten within 3 – 6 months, it’s important to be aware that food will not become unsafe in the freezer. Freezing “pauses” the growth of bacteria, locks in nutrients, prevents spoilage and ultimately helps reduce wastage!
Regardless of what is thrown our way as we leave 2020 and head into 2021 for a much-needed fresh start, hopefully this blog will help to inspire you to get in the kitchen confidently and safely!
For more information on food safety, follow Jenna on Instagram @Foodsafetymum
Some common FAQ’s in relation to the current advice surrounding food and protecting yourself from COVID-19:
Should you be sanitising your outer food packaging?
There is no need to sanitise the outer packaging of food (3). Whilst COVID-19 has been known to survive on different surfaces for up to 72 hours (4), it is not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging (3). However, you should still follow good hygiene practices and wash your hands before and after handling food.
Should you wash your Food?
There is no need to disinfect your fruit and veg using chemicals (1) but you must continue to wash fruit and veg using running water before consuming to remove any contamination from the surface! When it comes to raw meat and raw poultry…cooking food thoroughly will kill the virus! (3) (Along with a lot of other nasties…..) Washing your raw chicken is not recommended as it can actually increase the risk of cross contamination around your kitchen (1)!
Is it safe to continue to order takeaways throughout the ongoing pandemic?
There is currently no evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted by food, especially as COVID-19 is a respiratory virus which cannot multiply in food (1). Staff preparing your food should regularly wash their hands and maintain good hygiene practices at all times in order to ensure your
food is safe to eat. However, before ordering a takeaway, make sure you have confidence in the food business to adhere to good food safety measures and that they are committed to keeping you safe. The food hygiene rating of a restaurant will help give an indicator of this. You can check the rating of your local food business by visiting the FSA’s Food Hygiene Rating’s page.
(1) WHO, Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Food safety for consumers, https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-food-safety-for-consumers (Accessed 8th November 2020)
(2) WRAP, Food surplus and waste in the UK – key facts, January 2020
(3) Food Standards Agency, Guidance for consumers on coronavirus (COVID-19) and food, 25th April 2020
(4) van Doremalen N, Bushmaker T, Morris DH, et al. Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2020 Apr;382(16):1564-1567. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2004973.