Retailers need to revise meat freezing guidelines to reduce waste
Consumers are throwing away meat due to retailers’ misleading freezing guidelines. Ask the Q is calling on retailers to clearly state, with no qualification, on all of their freezable fresh meat products that they can be safely frozen up until their use by date and that meat frozen at home should be eaten within a certain timeframe for quality purposes only. They should also consider revising universal ‘consume within 1 month’ guidance in favour of different timeframes for different meat products.
In the UK 50% of food waste arises in the home. This is both a waste of the resources used to grow or rear that product and also a waste of money. Meat accounts for the most wasted resource in the home with most consumers buying their meat fresh rather than pre-frozen.
A survey by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in July 2016 as part of Food Safety Week revealed consumer confusion over freezing guidelines issued by retailers and that a large proportion of food might not have been wasted had it been frozen. Forty-three per cent of those interviewed wrongly thought that food should only be frozen on the day of purchase to be safe and 36% wrongly believed that food can become unsafe to eat while in the freezer.
In August 2016 The Telegraph published an Ask the Q survey, which found that 8/11 of supermarkets and grocery retailers recommend 'day of purchase' freezing for their own brand fresh meat products and all 11 recommend consuming frozen meat within 1 month.
Freeze on ‘day of purchase’
Food can be safely frozen right up until the use by date yet a majority of retailers are recommending meat is frozen on the ‘day of purchase’ and only Sainsbury’s consistently adheres to the Waste and Resources Action Programme’s advice on using freeze ‘before date mark’ guidance.
- Lidl, Iceland and Morrison’s recommend ‘day of purchase’ freezing for all of their fresh meat while Marks and Spencer and Waitrose, despite both making public commitments to change this, and Asda, Aldi and The Co-op all offer both types of guidance.
- Where freezing is recommended by the use by date (rather than ‘on day of purchase’), the guidance can be confusing. For example Sainsbury’s, having also made a public commitment to use ‘freeze by date mark’ guidance, states ‘freeze as soon as possible [author’s emphasis] after purchase’. The Co-op specifies ‘as soon as possible for best quality [author’s emphasis]’. Tesco says ‘ideally [author’s emphasis] freeze as soon as possible after purchase’ as does Waitrose – ‘freeze as soon after purchase as possible’ – and Ocado states on its website to freeze fresh meat ‘on or [author’s emphasis] before use by date’.
- There is no guidance at all on some of Morrison’s ‘Our Family Butcher’ meat range, packaged in polystyrene and cling film.
Once frozen, ‘consume within 1 month’
Once frozen, food remains safe indefinitely. None of the retailers are consistently following WRAP’s guidance that timeframes for consuming frozen food should reflect how long that particular product retains its quality for. In the UK, the FSA recommends eating frozen food within 3-6 months for quality purposes, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US breaks this down further, recommending that some foods retain their quality in the freezer for up to 12 months.
None of the retailers in the survey explain on their meat packaging that ‘consume within x months’ is for quality purposes only and all retailers, with the exception of Tesco, largely or exclusively use a universal ‘consume within 1 month’ guidance, irrespective of the meat product.
- Freeze fresh meat right up until its ‘use by date’, label it with a freezing date and look at the Food Safety Authority or Food and Drug Administration guidance for consumption timeframes for best quality.
- Email/tweet (#AsktheQ) your preferred retailer:
- Ask them to clearly state, with no qualification, on all of their freezable fresh meat products that they can be safely frozen right up until their use by date
- Ask them to clearly state on all of their freezable fresh meat products that once frozen they should be eaten within a certain timeframe for quality purposes only
*In July 2016 Ask the Q surveyed Aldi, Asda, The Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrison’s, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. At least six different own brand fresh meat products were surveyed, including chicken pieces, lamb chops and lamb mince, beef burgers, beef mince and beef steaks, pork sausages, pork loin steaks and bacon, and turkey mince and turkey breast. The guidance was taken from the product packaging with the exception of Ocado where online guidance was surveyed.