Twelve Million Households Bin Good Food Straight from the Freezer

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Over half of British households, more than 12 million of them, are throwing away good food simply because they are not using their freezer properly. 85%, or 21m households, significantly underestimated the length of time that frozen food could safely be stored. In fact, there is no time limit to how long food can be safely frozen for. Basic knowledge of freezer usage could save UK households hundreds of pounds.

This research highlights the important role the freezer can play in the kitchen. We can save shop-bought and home-cooked foods for another day, and at Christmas time the freezer gives us more choice at mealtimes, and space to store leftovers.

Over half of British households, more than 12 million of them, are throwing away good food simply because they are not using their freezer properly, new research has shown.

The research, commissioned by Birds Eye, has found that over half of us admit to wasting food by taking it straight out of the freezer and placing it in the bin.

Astonishingly, over a third of people (34%), over 8 million households, admitted to having "no idea" what was in their freezer, despite it being full. The research uncovered some other staggering admissions:

  • 85%, or 21m households, significantly underestimated the length of time that frozen food could safely be stored
  • 50%, or 12m households, thought frozen chicken and fish became unsafe after just three months, when in fact they can remain safe for years, as long as they remain frozen
  • 39%, or 9.5m households, confessed to throwing away food simply because they can't remember how long they have had it
  • 16%, or 3.5m households, admitted to throwing away food straight from the freezer simply to make room for newly bought food

Research published earlier in the year by the Government's Waste and Resources Action Programme found that the average family throws away £610 worth of food every year unnecessarily. Basic knowledge of freezer usage could save UK households hundreds of pounds.

Consumers also don't know that throwing away food straight from the freezer is a waste nutritionally: 62%, or 2 of every 3 households, don't know that frozen food can be more nutritious than its chilled equivalent. Fresh food deteriorates over time, meaning that its nutritional value decreases. Freezing locks in nutrients as well as taste.

For vegetables, deterioration in taste and nutrient levels begins as soon as the food is harvested. Birds Eye frozen peas, for example, which are frozen within 2.5 hours of harvesting, contain more vitamin C after a year in the freezer than fresh peas just 3 days after they are picked. Frozen whole green beans contain more vitamin C than their chilled counterpart after just two days. This is another reason to avoid throwing away food straight from the freezer.

Supporting Quotes:

Birds Eye's UK Managing Director Anne Murphy commented on the findings: "In the current economic climate, consumers are looking for ways to cut costs and enjoy good food without the waste. Frozen food can help with both of these, but 12 million households are throwing away food because they don't realise how effectively freezing locks in freshness and nutrition. We hope people will think twice before they do their big Christmas shop to make sure they make the most of what is in their freezer, and that good, nutritious food does not end up in the bin."

Julia Falcon, from WRAP's Love Food Hate Waste campaign said: "This research highlights the important role the freezer can play in the kitchen. We can save shop-bought and home-cooked foods for another day, and at Christmas time the freezer gives us more choice at mealtimes, and space to store leftovers."

Top Freezer Tips

1.    There is no time limit to how long food can be safely frozen for - as long as it is kept frozen at -18 degrees Celsius or below and remains properly frozen, it will not become unsafe.

2.    Food bought ready frozen keeps its taste and texture better and for much longer than food frozen at home because it has been frozen very quickly and deeply, and when the food was fresher.

3.    The optimum freezer temperature for preserving food quality is -18°. This is cold enough to ensure food stays properly frozen and avoids ice crystals forming, which can reduce food quality.

4.    Fresh food can be frozen at any point up to the use by date and remain safe. If chilled food is approaching its use by date and might not be eaten, move it from the fridge to the freezer so that it doesn't end up going to waste. When defrosted, use it within 24 hours.

5.    It's easy to keep a record of what's in your freezer and avoid buying the same items twice. Stick a list on the door so you can record and date each item you put in. Once you run out of an item, simply add it to your shopping list.

Consumer Comments:

Alongside its quantitative research, Birds Eye also spoke to consumers about food waste and their freezer:

Phoebe Kelner, 19
"I'd like to know how to use my freezer properly because I haven't got a clue how long you should keep things for. I normally end up binning stuff after a month because I'm not sure if I should eat it. The main thing I always freeze is bread but then I forget it's there and end up buying more. I also always have frozen peas because I actually think they taste better than fresh, and I just use a cup at a time so they last for ages."

Lorraine Redhead, 38

"I normally have a big clear out before Christmas - I'm doing it at the moment. I need to fit all my Christmas stuff in, so to make way I chuck anything that I've had for a while."

"I used to be terrible - I'd end up with 3 bags of frozen peas, 5 bags of chips all at once and wouldn't have a clue. It must have been costing me a fortune! Now I have a drawer for veg, one for meat and fish and one for chips/smiley faces, so now I'm not so bad and tend to know what I've got."

Janice Bays, 45

"I bin food straight from the freezer every couple of months or so after I do a big freezer shop. If it's been there 6 months, or there's a silly amount left in the packet - a few veg, a sausage or a fish finger say - and I've just done a big shop, I'll throw it away."

"I don't write labels on things to say when I bought them, or write on the things that I freeze myself. This can mean that I find something in the freezer and I don't know what it is or how long I've had it so I will bin it."

Doreen Stainforth, 65

"I try not to throw food away because it's waste, isn't it. Sometimes I buy something for a meal, like a cooked jacket potato, and you often get two in a pack, but I only need one, so I freeze the other. I might come across it in the freezer later on and then throw it away, because I'm not sure if it is still safe to eat."

For more information, please contact the Birds Eye press office: 020 7291 6492

Notes to editors:

1.    The research, commissioned by Birds Eye, was carried out by Market Measures and conducted between 26 September and 1 October 2008. The sample size was 1,064 and is representative of the UK.

2.    Birds Eye is the UK's number 1 frozen food manufacturer and has grown 8.5% in value in the last 12 weeks (Nielsen 01.11.08). The company is named after Clarence Birdseye who invented flash freezing, a technique now adopted by all frozen food manufacturers to freeze food quickly and deeply to preserve naturally food's taste and nutrients and to keep it fresh.

3.    Research published by the Waste and Resources Action Programme, The Food We Waste, in May 2008 found that households in the UK throw away a third, or 6.7 million tonnes, of all food purchased each year, costing £10.2 billion annually, or £610 for the average family. The research also found that most of this could be avoided if food had been planned, stored and managed better. For more information on WRAP's Love Food Hate Waste campaign, see http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com.

4.    Freezers are a relatively new addition to the British household. In 1970, just 3.5% of homes had a freezer of any kind. By 1980, this had increased to 46%, rising rapidly to 88% by 1990, and to 96% by 1995. Today, almost every UK household has a freezer. Of those questioned as part of the Market Measures research:

  • 59% own an upright fridge-freezer
  • 7% have an American-style fridge-freezer
  • 12% have a chest freezer in the garage
  • 4% have a chest freezer in the kitchen
  • 12% have a freezer under the kitchen countertop
  • 2% have a fridge with a small freezer/ice box
  • 1% have another sort of freezer

According to the Market Measures research, 35%, or 1 in 3 households, use their freezer daily, while 50% use their freezer once every 2-3 days. 82% of respondents agreed that they couldn't be without their freezer.

5.    There has been a resurgence in frozen food in the last year. At the beginning of 2008, 87% of households bought into frozen, the highest number of households in the last three years. In the last 12 weeks the frozen food category has grown 6.8% in value (Nielsen 01.11.08).

6.    Source of data on vitamin retention and frozen food: D J Favell, 'A Comparison of the vitamin C content of fresh and frozen vegetables', Food Chemistry, vol 62, No1, pp 59-64, 1998.

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Jo Richards
Birds Eye
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