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What do the stars mean on freezers?

Have you noticed the stars on freezer compartments? Some people do not understand their significance and simply bung food in any drawer. The stars indicate the temperature of the compartment and therefore the length of time that food may safely be stored within. Here is a summary of the star system for you to print out and tape to the inside of your freezer.

* One star (-6 degrees centigrade) is perfect for making ice cubes and is sufficiently cold to keep food for three or four days. ** Two stars (-12 degrees centigrade) stores food for fifteen to twenty days. *** Three stars (-18 degrees centigrade) will keep food safe for up to three months. **** Four stars (below 18 degrees centigrade) means that the compartment provides the ideal conditions for freezing down fresh and pre-cooked foods.

Most frozen food in supermarkets is clearly marked to show how long it can be kept. That combined with the star codes gives you an easy way to make sure that your frozen food is safe to eat. When you buy chilled and frozen food, put it in to your freezer as soon as possible. If you have a long journey from the shop or the weather is very hot, buy an insulated cool bag to keep the food at a safe temperature. Running a freezer uses a lot of electricity but savings can be made in the convenient bulk purchase of food. Freezers run most efficiently when full and in use. If you see your freezer merely as a place to store ice cream and the occasional packet of peas, use the icebox on the top of your refrigerator instead.


How should I store foods?

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All conscientious kitchen users practise good food storage. However there are some lesser-known tips that allow you to prolong the life of food without endangering health. Bananas tend to ripen quickly in a bowl of fruit. Keep them separate and they will last longer. Green vegetables are best eaten within two days of purchase but root vegetables keep several weeks when stored in a dark, cool, well-ventilated place. Make sure that you remove potatoes from plastic wrappers otherwise they will sprout.

Rice and flour should be stored in airtight containers. Whole rice will be good for a year, plain flour for six months and self-raising flour for three months. A few dried chillies placed in pulse jars will deter insects from eating the contents. ‘Use by’ dates should be treated with caution. Make sure that your fridge is operating at the recommended temperature with a separate fridge thermometer. Then you can safely store food up to their expiry dates. Place food for freezing in individual portions within non-stick freezer bags for easy access. Label the packs with a spirit based felt tip pen on plastic garden labels so that items are identifiable and not just strange blocks of ice!

Food hygiene is important. The old adage ‘if in doubt, throw it out’ should still be followed, despite today’s age of convenience foods. Indeed every year there appears to be more and more cases of food poisoning, so please, store safe.


What are ‘energy labels’ that I see on fridges, freezers and laundry appliances?

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When you buy a household appliance, do you find out how much electricity it uses? Many don’t, believing such information to be unimportant or unavailable. Yet appliances that are energy efficient save you money and do less harm to the environment. Currently two groups of appliances have to carry energy consumption data to comply with EU law. These are fridges/freezers and washers/dryers. Both use a lot of electricity and so a wise choice will save you money.

Appliances are graded A, a green arrow meaning energy efficient, to G, a red arrow meaning that a lot of electricity is used. Labels and manufacturer’s leaflets will clearly explain the grading system alongside the allocated letter. Actual energy consumption is given in kilowatt-hours per year. This is useful as you can calculate savings you are likely to make over the life of the appliance. Although an energy efficient item may be more expensive than its wasteful competitor, energy savings and other quality benefits should demonstrate that it is a better buy.

If a European Ecolabel is featured, (a green flower) you will know that the product has been judged among the best in its class. There is space on the label for other pertinent information such as food storage, spin speeds, drying performance, washing ability, noise levels etc. but the manufacturer is not compelled to give such data. Where the A to G grading is used, A is best, G is worst. This system is being expanded to cover dishwashers, heaters, light bulbs and ovens and will be very useful to the concerned consumer. However, remember that some of the performance statistics have been obtained by using energy saving devices such as economy buttons and half load settings so do likewise when appropriate for best results.


Control your fridge to keep food safe

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In warm weather, bacteria flourish. Your fridge must be able to work efficiently during hot spells otherwise you risk food poisoning. Read your fridge’s operating instructions and if it cannot maintain the safe temperature, renew it. Safe temperature is between 0 - 6ºc and the thermostat should regulate this figure. Salmonella grows at 7ºc and listeria organisms double every eight hours at 10ºc.

Storage

Food storage is important. Set the fridge thermostat correctly and "If in doubt, throw it out!"

Check the temperature controls and thermostat by placing a thermometer on the middle shelf and leaving it overnight to obtain a good average reading. If the temperature is not right adjust the thermostatic control. This is a clearly visible numbered dial, the higher the number the lower the temperature. Now you have to keep your fridge at the desired temperature. In summer the fridge door can be opened more times than any other door in the home. Don’t leave the door open for more than a few seconds and let warm food cool before placing in the fridge. During hot weather you may need to reduce the operating temperature. Defrost regularly to maintain efficient operation otherwise you will waste electricity. Modern ‘frost free’ appliances never need defrosting but you must be sure that the drainage hole usually found at the rear of the cavity is kept clear.

Dates

Always check sell by dates.


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