Everything You Need To Know About Freezing Food
The freezer is arguably the most life-changing kitchen appliance ever invented. Although it’s largely taken for granted and always in the shadow of flashy newcomers like French door ovens and countertop brewing systems, it would be greatly missed if you had to live without it for a day.
Since its introduction back in 1940, the home freezer has given us the gift of frozen vegetables, TV dinners, and, of course, ice cream. However, with fame come fallacies and myths. While freezing is a superb long-term storage method, it’s not magic. Not only can you waste food and money with misuse, some practices can seriously taint food.
All Foods Can Be Frozen
There are only a handful of foods that don’t freeze well. Actually, they freeze just fine; it’s thawing that destroys them. Lettuce, cucumbers, whole tomatoes, berries, any fresh fruit or vegetable that is naturally full of water disintegrates after freezing. These items will look lovely when you take them out to defrost but as they thaw, they become just ugly puddles with none of their original taste or texture. Cream-based sauces also look fine when frozen but break and curdle as they defrost. Canned foods don’t do well frozen in their original packaging but can be repacked in freezer containers.
Never Freeze Eggs and Dairy Products
Butter freezes extremely well in its original packaging, so you can stock up when it’s on sale. Aged, hard cheeses such as parmesan and Romano don’t suffer from freezing. Soft cheeses such as cheddar, Swiss, Jack and mozzarella keep their quality in a freezer but chop, shred or slice it first. When defrosted, softer cheeses tend to crumble due to the moisture lost during freezing. Cream cheese loses its creaminess when frozen but can still be used as a recipe ingredient. Fresh milk, half-and-half and heavy cream are safe to freeze in the cartons although they are a bit more watery than when fresh when thawed. Freeze fresh eggs in little individual containers, either whole or separated into yolks and whites. Eggs will burst if you freeze them in their shells.
Freezing Food Kills Food Poisoning Bacteria
Freezing temperatures are powerful but they can’t kill bacteria, only make it temporarily inactive. If your food is contaminated when you freeze it, it will still be inedible when thawed. In fact, some bacteria grow and multiply as food defrosts. The only way to kill bacteria is through cooking it to the recommended temperature. Used a probe or instant-read thermometer to check internal temperatures. But even then, the food may taste bad and/or make you seriously ill. It’s best to waste food now and then rather than take a chance on contracting food poisoning.
Food Can Be Frozen Indefinitely
Logically, you can freeze anything you want indefinitely. But food becomes nearly inedible if frozen too long. Prepared dishes become mushy and tasteless. Cooked meats and poultry develop an ‘off’ taste if frozen too long. Raw meat and poultry are susceptible to freezer burn after a few months, no matter how well wrapped. Vacuum-sealed food generally lasts a few months longer. Always date your frozen food so you know what to eat first to avoid losing quality.
Freezing Food Destroys Its Nutrients
Long before the myth of microwaves killing nutrients was born, the freezer was the alleged culprit. Interestingly, many frozen vegetables and fruits have more nutrients than fresh choices. This is based on the fact that commercially processed produce is typically picked at its peak ripeness, when most varieties have the highest amount of nutrients. Fresh produce is often several days or even a week old. However, frozen fruits and vegetables do lose some nutritional benefits over months of freezing, so eat them as soon as possible to keep your inventory as healthful as possible. Steam or microwave vegetables to preserve water-solvent vitamins lost through simmering or boiling in water.
Thawed Frozen Food Must Be Cooked Before Refreezing
No one’s quite sure where this odd parable came from but it’s one of the oldest frozen food myths around. As long as the originally frozen food hasn’t been left on the counter for more than 2 hours or an hour or more in 90-degree heat, it can be safely refrozen. Keep in mind, though, that every time you refreeze something, more moisture is lost. This causes foods, especially meat and poultry, to disintegrate considerably. Avoid refreezing when possible. If you are using refrozen food, reserve it for soups and casseroles where texture is less important.
Long-Term Freezing is Safe Anywhere in Your Freezer
Not all areas of your freezer are created equal. Whether you’re using a freestanding freezer or the one that’s part of your refrigerator, the door is the warmest part. It’s not only not as well insulated as the rest of the freezer, it also gets a blast of warm air every time you open the door. Repeated temperature fluctuations encourage the formation of large ice crystals in food, which compromises its texture and taste. Store frozen meats, poultry, fish, vegetables and fruits as far back in the freezer as possible. Use the door to store frequently used items such as ice, ice cream, frozen yogurt and concentrated juices.