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Freezing can be a quick and easy way to extend the storage time of many foods. Freezing foods can help reduce food waste, save shopping time and money as well as preserving local foods when abundant.
Here are some general freezing tips that can help you maintain the quality of the food so you can enjoy it at a later time.
- Get a thermometer for your freezer. Keep the temperature of the freezer at zero degrees or below to maintain the quality of the food. If you don’t have a thermometer, one easy way to estimate a freezer’s temperature is to check the consistency of ice cream. If the ice cream is not brick-hard, the temperature in your freezer is too warm.
- Many freezers that are built into refrigerator units have a difficult time getting that low and quality of the food may be reduced. Do not plan to store frozen food for maximum recommended storage times if your freezer unit cannot maintain zero degrees.
- Fluctuating temperatures, such as those in self-defrosting freezers, may damage food quality and it may lose color, texture and flavor. While these changes may be unwanted and unappealing, they will not cause a foodborne illness.
- Freezer temperatures do not destroy pathogens or spoilage organisms. If on the product before freezing, theses pathogens will begin to grow again upon thawing if not handled properly.
- The quality of frozen food will not last forever. Be sure to label and date frozen food items and maintain a rotation system and use the items with the oldest date first.
- Use freezer wrap, bags or containers that are designed for frozen food storage. If food in your freezer has white, dried-out patches it has been “freezer burned”. This is caused by using improper packaging which allows air to dry out the food surface. Freezer burn will not cause illness, but the food may be tough, dry and tasteless when eaten.
- Pack food fairly tightly into containers or press out excess out excess air when packing food into freezer bags. For most foods, it’s helpful to leave a little air space (about ½ inches) to allow for expansion as the food freezes.
As a general rule, foods with a high-water content do not freeze well. The water in food expands during freezing and breaks down the food’s structure, making the food limp and mushy when thawed. Vegetables that don’t freeze well are lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, celery and cabbages. If frozen, some of these foods can used in a cooked products but not to be eaten raw such as in a salad.
Many fruits can successfully be frozen, but may have quality and texture changes because of their high-water content. This is why it is often suggested to eat fruit while still slightly frozen.
Common foods that don’t freeze well
- Cooked eggs
- Potato salad
- Fully cooked pasta
- Yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk or cream cheese
- Mayonnaise may separate during freezing and thawing
- Sauces and gravies thickened with flour or cornstarch may separate and break down when frozen
- Fried foods may lose their crispiness
- Crumb toppings, such as on casseroles, may become soggy after freezing.
- Egg containing products such as custards and cream puddings, by themselves or in pies, pastry or cakes.
Sometimes you see these foods in commercially frozen products because food companies have equipment that freezes food faster than can be done with a home freezer. This quick freezing helps to retain quality better.
As a reference for recommended storage times for food quality, check out the Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart at fda.gov.
One important key to remember, freezing cannot improve the flavor or texture of food, but when properly done it can preserve most of the quality of the fresh product.
More next week on freezing specific foods.
- National Center for Home Food Preservation and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension
Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610