Christmas: the most wasteful time of the year?

Top tips from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Chiltern District Council on being 'food safe' this Christmas, while reducing waste, and saving precious time and money

Christmas and food go hand in hand. We consume approximately 10 million turkeys every Christmas and spend just over £20 per person serving up that, hopefully perfect, Christmas lunch. But food waste is rife... According to food waste prevention campaign Love Food Hate Waste, we are throwing away in excess of 100,000 tonnes of edible poultry each year alone!

In a bid to make this Christmas less wasteful and more wonderful - while maintaining vital food safety practices - the FSA has teamed up with Love Food Hate Waste to compile top tips and innovative recipes so consumers' festive feasts can go further and not result in unwelcome illness.

"When it comes to food safety, cooking, freezing and defrosting poultry can be confusing. At Christmas, turkey is still our favourite festive food, but people often throw away their leftovers, rather than using them up in a safe way," explains David Alexander, FSA Head of General Food Hygiene Policy

Helen White, from Love Food Hate Waste, adds: "We've all got lots on our minds during the festive season, and throwing away food can get pushed to one side by other things! The cost of binning food can add up quickly, both in terms of the money you waste and the damage this has on the environment. With these top tips, and a bit of clever planning, you can avoid throwing away hundreds of pounds of perfectly good uneaten food - and not just at Christmas."

TIP ONE: KEEP YOUR CHRISTMAS COOL  

Double check your fridge is set at 5°C or below and test this with a fridge thermometer; if you need help you can use Love Food Hate Waste's fridge temperature tool. As long as your food is within its 'use by' date and kept according to storage instructions, it will stay fresher for longer this way. Always store raw meats and ready-to-eat food, such as fresh fruit and cooked meat, separately to avoid cross-contamination.

TIP TWO: GET TO KNOW YOUR DATES

It is important to understand the difference between 'best before' and 'use-by' dates to stay food-safe and ensure you're not throwing away good food unnecessarily. Best before is about quality:  food will be safe to eat after this date, but may no longer be at its best. Use-by is about safety: food shouldn't be eaten, cooked or frozen after this date, as it could be unsafe - even if it has been stored correctly and looks and smells fine.

TIP THREE: GET YOUR FESTIVE FREEZE ON  

80% of consumers have thrown away food that was close to its use-by date
without realising they could freeze it and keep it for later. It is safe to freeze food right up until the use-by date. Freezing acts as a 'pause button', and you can freeze pretty much everything, including raw and cooked meats, fruit, potatoes (after boiling them for five minutes first), and even eggs. Simply crack your eggs into a sealable container and freeze. You can separate yolks from whites first if you want to use them for different dishes. A big block of hard cheese can also be grated and frozen.

TIP FOUR: LOVE YOUR Leftovers

There are endless ways to re-use or reinvent Christmas leftovers, from stinky stilton and brussels sprouts, to Christmas cake and bread sauce. Cool them, cover them and put them in the fridge or freezer within one to two hours. Splitting leftovers into smaller portions will help food cool quicker, then you can freeze and defrost what you need for future dishes. Turkey, the cornerstone of the Christmas meal, has a lot to give, but after your five-hundredth turkey sandwich you might feel like a bit of a change. If you're running low on ideas to make the most of your leftovers, check out these delicious and inventive Christmas leftover recipes from Love Food Hate Waste.

TIP FIVE: BEAT THE BACTERIA

When food defrosts, its core temperature rises providing the ideal conditions for bacteria to grow - that's why it's best to defrost food slowly and safely, preferably overnight in the fridge. You can also defrost food thoroughly in a microwave - make sure you re-heat until steaming hot. Once the food is defrosted, the pause button is 'off', so you will need to eat the food within 24 hours. Remember that previously cooked and frozen meat should only be reheated once. However, you can safely cook defrosted meat into a new meal and freeze that dish for use another day. For example, you can buy your turkey frozen, defrost it, cook it and use the leftovers in a curry, which itself can be frozen to eat and enjoy another day - when Christmas is a distant memory!