Looking at Frozen Fruits and Veggies

— Written By and last updated by Meghan Lassiter
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The Produce for Better Health website had an interesting Q and A about the safety of eating frozen produce. Interesting I say because most people don’t even question this topic, thinking that it’s in the freezer it’s safe. Let’s look at this discussion.

They cite the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), which says it’s important to
follow preparation instructions (yep there are instructions on those boxes and bags) and to understand the difference between frozen fruits and frozen vegetables. Overall, the difference is that fruits don’t have cooking instructions while vegetables do.

Fruits are high in both acid and sugar content. This can help prevent or reduce the growth of potentially harmful bacteria. Fruits are usually enjoyed directly from the freezer. On the other hand, vegetables have lower acidity and lower sugar content. Blanching and freezing vegetables may not prevent the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.

They stress following the cooking instructions on vegetables carefully. You may note that most frozen vegetable package instructions now give an internal temperature (165F) to which you should cook these vegetables.

This usually isn’t a problem because we eat most of these vegetables cooked. But there are a couple of situations and recipes where vegetables were used directly from the frozen state and not cooked. Some of these include foods like smoothies, layered salads, and corn and bean salsa. If you have a recipe that suggests using uncooked frozen vegetables, you can cook these foods completely (following the manufacturer’s instructions) and then chill or freeze them before using them in these foods.

That said, I looked for a couple more references about the safety of eating fruits directly from the freezer. In one of my favorite podcasts, Risky or Not, two Extension Specialists discuss food safety issues and decide if the food is risky or not. In episode #122, the topic was Making Frozen Berry Smoothies. Dr. Schaffner from Rutgers mentioned that frozen berries (strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries) have been linked to viral food-borne disease outbreaks and recalls (specifically Norovirus and Hepatitis A) in the past.

While this has happened, the numbers have not been large. NCSU’s Dr. Chapman boils frozen berries that he’s planning on using for smoothies and then refreezes them, saying he started this when his children were younger and more immune compromised. The Professors concluded that overall frozen berries used in smoothies are NOT RISKY. They stressed that the frozen food industry is very focused on safety concerns and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has frozen berries and produce rules. If you want to hear their discussion yourself for the details, it’s at riskyornot.co (yes, co not com).

This cooking step is especially important for families that have members
who are more at risk such as pregnant women, infants, the elderly, and immune-compromised.

Dietitians also have also chimed in on this topic, saying that they’re trying
very hard to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables, so hopefully this does not scare people away from safe and healthy sources of these foods. They state that the health value of eating fruits and vegetables far outweighs the risk of getting foodborne illnesses from them.

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910.253.2610 or by email at cheryle_syracuse@ncsu.edu.