Summer dining could spark increase in food poisoning

While South Ayrshire has only seen short bursts of summer so far, the warm weather is encouraging many to dust down the barbecues, creak open the picnic baskets and make the most of outdoor dining – in between the showers.

However, South Ayrshire Council is stressing the importance of cooking safely when on a tight budget, especially when it comes to making the most of leftovers and food that may have gone past its sell-by date.

New research published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) shows that some people are taking more risks with food safety as they try to save money and make their food go further.

Almost everyone surveyed by the FSA believed the cost of their typical shopping basket had gone up significantly in the last three years and half said they were now making use of leftover food. But some are keeping leftovers for longer than the recommended limit of two days in the fridge.

There are around a million cases of food poisoning every year in the UK. The levels soar during summer months across the UK with around 120,000 extra cases of illness from June to August.

Councillor John McDowall, Portfolio Holder for Sustainability and the Environment, said: “Food waste is a subject of environmental, economic and social concern and everyone should be looking for ways to cut down on this wherever possible. Using leftover food is one way of doing this but this must not be at the expense of food safety, which is crucial if we want to avoid becoming ill through eating unsafe foods.”

Bob Martin, a food safety expert at the FSA, added: “With most of us seeing our weekly shopping bills increase over the last few years, we are all looking for ways to get the most out of our shopping budget.

“Using leftover food is a good way of making meals go further. However, unless we’re careful, there’s a chance we can risk food poisoning by not storing or handling them properly.”

The FSA’s advice on leftovers says:

· If you are going to store leftovers in the fridge, cool them as quickly as possible, ideally within 90 minutes. Cover them, get them in the fridge and then eat them within two days.

· Make sure your fridge is operating at the correct temperature, it should be below 5 degrees celsius.

· You can also freeze your leftovers, but cool them first to minimise temperature fluctuation in your freezer. They can be safely stored in the freezer almost indefinitely, but the quality will still deteriorate gradually with time, so it’s best to eat them within three months.

· Make sure you defrost frozen leftovers properly before using them. If you’re going to cook them straightaway use a microwave. If you don’t have a microwave, defrost them in the fridge overnight.

· Eat leftovers within 24 hours of defrosting and do not refreeze them again. The only exception to this is if you are defrosting raw food, such as meat or poultry, which can be refrozen once it has been cooked.

· Cook leftovers until steaming hot throughout.

Anyone who would like further information should contact the Council on 0300 123 0900 or e-mail environmental.health@south-ayrshire.gov.uk