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Understanding refrigeration and freezing instructions

An article explaining how refrigeration and freezing instructions are displayed on food packaging and what the labels mean.
© EIT Food

The ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates we discussed in the previous Step are only relevant if the food is stored properly and the packaging should contain clear instructions, most of which are self-explanatory. The ones that can cause confusion relate to refrigerating and freezing food.

In late 2017, new guidance was published by three UK organisations – WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme), the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Defra (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) – which set out best practice for providing storage advice, to be used by food manufacturers, retailers and brands [1]. The guidance provided key information on how to apply food date labels, storage, and freezing advice [2]. And was produced in accordance with the requirements of the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation [3].

The blue fridge logo signposts which foods should be chilled, or when storing in the fridge is beneficial to prolonging an item’s life. The logo can be found on products, like most fruit and vegetables, that will keep fresher for longer in the fridge (some exceptions are potatoes, onions, bananas and pineapples). The logo is displayed alongside wording such as ‘store below 5°C’, to reinforce the importance of checking fridge temperatures.

The fridge symbol and numerical storage temperature advice are particularly important for items that are sold at ambient temperatures but will keep fresher for longer if refrigerated. Many fresh produce items last up to 2 weeks longer in the fridge [1].

Since the guidelines were introduced, a survey done by WRAP in 2019 showed that the blue fridge logo has increased in prominence in the UK [5].

Many products can be frozen to prolong their use beyond the ‘use by’ date but it’s important to follow the instructions on pack regarding storage, defrosting and subsequent use.

The snowflake logo is used on front of pack labelling to indicate suitability for home freezing (a crossed-out snowflake means the product should not be frozen). If the snowflake logo is present, then there should also be instructions on the back of the pack about when to freeze, for how long and how to defrost [1].

To extend the life of food beyond its ‘use by’ date, it is safe to freeze it up to the day before the date and then defrost and use it within 24 hours. Imagine a clock counting down to the ‘use by’ date. You can stop the clock as soon as you freeze the food. But you need to start the clock again when you start defrosting. This ensures the overall ‘use by’ date is not exceeded [4].

The WRAP survey showed that the use of the snowflake logo has seen a significant increase in the UK too, in particular for bread where its use has increased from 38% in 2015 to 79% in 2019. The freezing advice is an important way to reduce the likelihood of baked goods being wasted [5].

Activity

Take a look in your pantry or fridge and find out if there are any products about to exceed their ‘use by’ date that can be frozen? How much money will you save by freezing them instead of throwing them away?

© EIT Food
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Understanding Food Labels

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