Tips for Keeping Frozen Food Fresh

Spring has arrived along with seasonal cleaning. Spring cleaning may mean going through the freezer and tossing that mystery meat shoved to the back. It is essential to know how to store foods for later use to ensure ideal freshness. Lisa Peterson, Nutrition & Wellness Educator with University of Illinois Extension provides ten tips for keeping frozen food fresh:

            1. Before filling the freezer or during the cleaning process, use a thermometer to makes sure the freezer temperature is 0°F or below. “As long as the freezer temperature stays at 0°F or below, the main concern with frozen food will be quality, not safety,” Peterson explains. Freezing stops bacteria from multiplying but doesn’t kill bacteria. When preparing food for freezing, if food is left at room temperature for longer than four hours, freezing it will not destroy the harmful bacteria.

            2. Use freezer-safe containers that are rigid, glass jars with a wide mouth, plastic bags, and containers stating they are freezer safe. Placing food in storage bags or grocery bags will not prevent freezer burn.

            3. Label food with the date and contents. Labeling will help with the identification of food. Consider labeling containers with the date it goes in the freezer or the toss date. Additionally, think about putting cooking instructions or the number of servings on the bag for convenience.

            4. Blanch fresh vegetables and cool before freezing to stop the ripening process. Water blanching involves boiling a gallon of water per pound of vegetables. Count blanching time once water starts boiling again after adding veggies. Then immediately cool in ice water or water below 60°F before freezing.

            5. When purchasing meat in bulk, consider separating it into smaller individual portions for freezing. The United States Department of Agriculture states it is safe to freeze meat or poultry directly in its original packaging; however, the packaging is permeable so that the quality will diminish over time. “Packaging in smaller portions makes grabbing it out of the freezer less of a hassle and repackaging may extend the quality,” Peterson notes.

            6. It’s possible to freeze eggs, just not in the shell. Freezing eggs in the shell may cause the shell to crack, the yolk will develop a syrupy or grainy texture, and won’t mix well with the egg white. When freezing eggs, consider adding one and a half tablespoons of sugar or half a teaspoon of salt per cup of an egg to help maintain quality. Straining the mixture with a colander will also keep the egg uniform.

            7. Utilize clean ice cube trays or muffin tins. Ice cube trays are great for flash freezing pre-measured ingredients such as herbs with water, eggs (3 Tbsp. of mixed eggs is equal to one egg), or small servings of soup. Freeze for 30 minutes to an hour before transferring food from tray to freezer bag.

            8. Leave ½ inch to 1 inch of headspace in container and freezer bags before freezing. Take a ruler out and leave some room at the top of the containers to allow food to expand as it freezes.

            9. Not all foods freeze well. Surprising to some, pasteurized milk can be frozen, but the texture may change. Thaw frozen milk in the refrigerator and shake well. For quality, milk keeps best for three months. Dairy products other than milk, tend to separate such as sour cream, custards, and dairy-based sauces. Additionally, foods with a high amount of water, such as cabbage, celery, cucumbers, and lettuce tend to change flavors, colors, and textures when frozen.

            10. Never thaw frozen food at room temperature. Thawing at room temperature can cause harmful bacteria to grow. There are four safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in the microwave, in cold water, or as part of the cooking process.

            “If you accidentally put canned foods in the freezer, it doesn’t mean you have to toss it. If the can appears swollen from freezing, thaw the can in the refrigerator, and as long as it doesn’t have an off smell or appearance, it is still safe,” Peterson advises. The USDA also advises if the seam of canned food is rusted or burst, toss by wrapping in plastic and dispose of where animals cannot get to it. Freezing is an economical way to extend the shelf life of food and call the local Extension office for additional questions.

If you have any questions please contact Lisa Peterson, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness