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How to Freeze Food

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 12, 2021
From the WebMD Archives

Freezing is one of the easiest ways to preserve food. Whether you had a great harvest from your garden or found a good deal at the supermarket, your extra food doesn’t have to go to waste if you can’t finish it all. If you're wondering how to freeze different foods, know that there can be some differences to keep in mind. Freezer burn is avoidable, frozen food is just as nutritious, and food prep and preservation can be as simple as preparing your meals for the freezer.

Benefits of Freezing Food

Unlike canning, freezing doesn’t sterilize foods. However, it does slow down the growth of microorganisms and chemical changes that affect foods.

Fresh produce contains enzymes that help it ripen, but this process eventually causes food decay too. These enzymes cause the loss of nutrients and color, and it also changes the flavor. Freezing will slow down this enzyme activity.

What Can You Freeze?

Almost any food can be frozen. Some exceptions are eggs in shells and food in cans. You can remove food from its can and freeze it. Freezing eggs in shells makes the yolk syrup-like, and it won’t blend with the whites or other ingredients.

Being able to freeze food doesn’t mean that it will freeze well. Some foods that don’t freeze well include:

  • Endive
  • Lettuce
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Cress
  • Radishes
  • Parsley
  • Mayonnaise
  • Sour cream
  • Cooked egg whites

General Food Freezing Tips

Here are some tips to help you freeze better:

  • Keep your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. 
  • For an energy efficient freezer, keep it at least ¾ full.  
  • Don’t add too much unfrozen food at once. This will slow the freezing rate. Put in 2 to 3 pounds of food per cubic foot of freezer space.
  • Don’t pack unfrozen food packages too tightly. Let some air circulate between them. After they’re frozen, you can stack them together.‌

Be sure to use freezer-safe containers or materials. Plastic and aluminum are good choices, but only use glass if it's marketed for use in the freezer.  

How to Freeze Vegetables

When freezing fresh vegetables, blanch them first. Blanching means to heat them for a short time in boiling water or steam. Blanching is important because it:

  • Stops enzyme activity 
  • Brightens the color of the vegetables
  • Helps slow the loss of vitamins
  • Softens the vegetables for easier packing 

Blanching times depend on the type of vegetable you’re freezing. For example, green beans are blanched for 3 minutes, while corn on the cob needs 7 to 11 minutes.

After blanching the vegetables, plunge it into a big bowl of ice cold water. This will stop the cooking process. It will take as long to cool as it took to heat. When cool, remove to dry.  

How to Freeze Fruits

Wash ripe fruits well before freezing. Pick those which have a firm texture and good flavor. Some fruits will darken when exposed to air and when frozen. These include: 

  • Peaches 
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Apricots 

When preparing fruits, keep cut or peeled fruits that turn brown in a solution of ascorbic acid. You can find ascorbic acid in powdered form in supermarkets. You can also crush 500-milligram Vitamin C tablets. Use six tablets per gallon of water. 

Some fruits may have better texture when frozen in sugar or syrup. 

Syrup. A 40% syrup is recommended for most fruits. To make this, dissolve 3 cups of sugar in 4 cups of water. Use just enough syrup to cover the fruits.

Sugar. To pack fruits in sugar, place them on a tray or bowl. Sprinkle sugar over and mix gently until the sugar is dissolved. Some juices will be drawn out of the fruits. Pack both fruit and juices when freezing.

Tray pack. This method is best for fruits that will maintain their quality when frozen. This includes:

  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Raspberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Apples

Spread a single layer of the fruit on shallow trays. Freeze completely, and then pack into freezer bags. 

Freezer jam. This is an easy way to make jam and use up fruits. With freezer jam, the fruit is not cooked or barely cooked. To make freezer jam, mix crushed berries with freezer jam pectin and sugar. Let stand until thickened then freeze for up to 1 year.

How to Freeze Meat

When freezing meat, here are some things to pay attention to:

  • Package the meat into meal-sized portions.
  • Don’t season it before freezing.
  • When freezing purchased meat, it’s best to rewrap or overwrap. Meat wrapped in store packaging will get freezer burn. 
  • The salt in cured meats like bacon will make it rancid within a few months.

How to Prevent Freezer Burn

Freezer burn looks like a clump of ice crystals that have stuck onto your food. Freezer burn happens when air comes into contact with your food and dries it out. It won’t make you sick, but the food may become discolored and tasteless.

To ensure the best quality, you should freeze your food with these tips in mind:

  • Cool all foods before freezing.
  • Pack as much food that will be used in one meal. 
  • Remove as much air from the packaging as possible. 
  • Label your packages with the type of food, amount, and date.
WebMD Expert Column

Sources

SOURCES: 

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Freezing 101.”

National Center for Home Food Preservation: “Blanching,”  “Foods That Do Not Freeze Well,” “Freezing Pointers.”

North Dakota State University: “Food Freezing Guide.”

UCCE El Dorado County Master Food Preservers: “Jams and Jellies.”

University of Missouri Extension: “How to Freeze Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs and Dairy Products,” “The science of freezing foods.”

US Department of Agriculture: “Freezing and Food Safety.”

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