Frozen Food Storage: Keeping It Safe and Tasty
Is it time to clean out your freezer?
Got freezer space? We tend to keep all sorts of things in our freezers year
after year. It's time to go through that freezer and dump everything you aren't
going to eat in the next six months ... like that trout you caught three years
ago, or the loaf of bread you bought at the two for one sale last year (the one
that now has ice crystals all over it).
Get beyond the newly packed items in the front of your freezer and there
will undoubtedly be some surprises. It might not be pretty! In my case, I found
a couple of apparently melted and refrozen syrupy juice bars and an opened bag
of frozen peas that had spilled out long ago.
We need all the freezer space we can get because many of us are at the brink
of freezer overflow on any day of the week. We've got ice packs locked and
loaded for the occasional sports injury; frozen vegetables and fruits for when
fresh is absent or unavailable; frozen entrees for when dinner or lunch has to
"make itself"; and frozen desserts and appetizers for when your kids'
(or your) friends come around unexpectedly.
So what should you throw out? While the FDA notes that freezing can keep
food safe almost indefinitely, that doesn't mean it will still have a good
taste and texture. Basically, anything that is no longer identifiable -- as
well as anything that makes you or your kids go "ew!" or "that's
gross" -- needs to go.
The Golden Rules of Freezing Meals
To prevent those unwelcome discoveries in the back of your freezer, it helps
to know how to freeze foods wisely in the first place. Keep in mind that when
you freeze foods, you want to accomplish five things:
- Prevent freezer burn.
- Prevent moisture loss.
- Prevent the transfer of smells to and from other foods.
- Use what freezer space you have wisely.
- Prevent food poisoning as your food cools.
The key to accomplishing these goals lies in the proper wrapping and storing
of your meals. Here are the golden rules for doing so:
- Leave as little air as possible in the freezer containers by removing as
much air as possible from freezer bags before sealing them and by using freezer
safe containers that closely fit the amount of food being frozen.
- Wrap meats and baked goods tightly with foil before you place them in
freezer bags. Keep in mind that freezing meat in the packaging from the store
(wrapped in plastic on Styrofoam trays) isn't ideal and won't hold up well to
the freezer temperatures. You are usually okay if you use them within a month,
- To make sure your food freezes as quickly as possible to discourage
bacteria growth, use small containers -- with a capacity no bigger than 4
quarts. Ideally, the food should be less than 3 inches thick within the
- Cool your hot foods quickly before freezing them by placing the pan of hot
food in a large container filled with ice or ice water, stirring often to keep
the cold circulating. If you're cooling a lot of hot food, like a large
saucepan of stew or chili, portion it into smaller, shallow containers.
- Label and date freezer bags or containers, even if you think you'll be
using the contents within a week or two.
- Place the food items in the coldest part of your freezer, if you can, until
they're completely frozen.
- Thawing food at room temperature only works with muffins, breads, and other
baked goods. For everything else, thaw in the refrigerator or use the
"thaw" setting on your microwave.
- Try to use your frozen foods within two to three months.
- When freezing dishes containing dairy foods, keep in mind that while milk
can be frozen, it might separate a little when thawed. Hard and semi-hard
cheeses can be frozen in 8- and 16-ounce blocks that have been wrapped in
plastic, then put in freezer bags. While the cheese will still have its
characteristic flavor when thawed, it could be a bit crumbly and tends to work
best when added to cooked dishes. The cheeses that fare the worst with freezing
are cream cheese and cottage cheese. Blue cheeses are most likely to become