As anyone who's had it will tell you, food poisoning can be extremely unpleasant, but by following a few simple guidelines and using commonsense it is also easy to avoid.
This week, July 4th to 10th, is national Food Safety Week, promoted by the Food Standards Agency. It is an independent Government department tasked with using its expertise and influence to make sure people can trust that the food they buy and eat is both safe and honestly described.
The focus of this year's Food Safety Week is the amount of frozen food thrown away because of confusion and misconceptions about what is and isn't safe to eat. In Britain we throw away seven million tons of food and drink from our homes every year, and a great deal of it is from our freezers.
This, says the FSA, is not because the food has gone bad, but because of a number of "freezing myths" that are preventing people from using their freezers properly to make food go further.
Steve Wearne, Director of Policy at the FSA, said: "Much of this food 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; 31% 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 research, which involved a survey of 1,500 people, highlighted a number of freezer myths, including:
· 43% wrongly thought that food could only be frozen on the day it was bought
· 38% wrongly believed that it is dangerous to refreeze meat once it has been defrosted and cooked
· 36% wrongly thought that food could become unsafe to eat while in the freezer
· 90% of the people surveyed said there are foods that they would never freeze.
Responding to the research, Mr Wearne added: “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."
Another reason we throw away so much food is simply because we buy too much, but if you have food which you are unlikely to eat before its 'use by' date then it can be frozen to eat later. The FSA's research found that 68% of those surveyed had thrown away food in the past month, mainly bread fruit, vegetables and leftover meals, all of which could be frozen to be used later.
Helen White, from campaign group Love Food Hate Waste, said: "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!"
Of course, if you really think a food item – especially meat and fish products – has gone off, it is better to discard it than risk food poisoning. But remember that the 'best before' date on food packaging only means that the food will be at its optimum quality before that date. It is only the 'use by' date which is about whether something should be safe to eat.