What can you freeze?
You can freeze almost any foods. Some exceptions are cans of foods or eggs in
shells. However, once the food (such as a ham) is out of the can, you may freeze
Being able to freeze food
and being pleased with the quality after defrosting are two different things.
Some foods simply don't freeze well at all. Examples are mayonnaise, cream sauce
and lettuce. Raw meat and poultry maintain their quality longer than their
cooked counterparts because moisture is lost during cooking.
Is frozen food safe?
Food stored constantly at 0° F will always be safe. Only the quality suffers
with lengthy freezer storage. Freezing keeps food safe by slowing the movement
of molecules, causing microbes to enter a dormant stage. Freezing preserves food
for extended periods because it prevents the growth of microorganisms that cause
both food spoilage and foodborne illness.
Does freezing destroy
bacteria and parasites?
Freezing to 0° F inactivates any microbes -- bacteria, yeasts and molds - -
present in food. Once thawed, however, these microbes can again become active,
multiplying under the right conditions to levels that can lead to foodborne
illness. Since they will then grow at about the same rate as microorganisms on
fresh food, you must handle thawed items as you would any perishable. Thorough
cooking will destroy bacteria.
Trichina and other parasites
can be destroyed by sub-zero freezing temperatures. However, very strict
government-supervised conditions must be met. It is not recommended to rely on
home freezing to destroy trichina. Thorough cooking will destroy all parasites.
Freshness and quality
Freshness and quality at the time of freezing affect the condition of frozen
foods. If frozen at peak quality, foods emerge tasting better than foods frozen
near the end of their useful life. So freeze items you won't use quickly sooner
rather than later. Store all foods at 0° F or lower to retain vitamin content,
color, flavor and texture.
The freezing process itself does not destroy nutrients. In meat and poultry
products, there is little change in nutrient value during freezer storage.
Enzyme activity can lead to the deterioration of foods quality. Enzymes present
in animals, vegetables and fruit promote chemical reactions, such as ripening.
Freezing only slows the enzyme activity that takes place in foods. It does not
halt these reactions which continue after harvesting. Enzyme activity does not
harm frozen meats or fish and is neutralized by the acids in frozen fruits. But
most vegetables that freeze well are low acid and require a brief, partial
cooking to prevent deterioration. This is called "blanching." For
successful freezing, blanch or partially cook vegetables in boiling water or in
a microwave oven. Then rapidly chill the vegetables prior to freezing and
storage. Consult a cookbook for timing.
Proper packaging helps maintain quality and prevent "freezer burn." It
is safe to freeze meat or poultry directly in its supermarket wrapping but this
type of wrap is permeable to air. Unless you will be using the food in a month
or two, overwrap these packages as you would any food for long-term storage
using airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap or freezer paper, or place the
package inside a plastic bag. Use these materials or airtight freezer containers
to repackage family packs into smaller amounts or freeze foods from opened
packages. It is not necessary to rinse meat and poultry before freezing. Freeze
unopened vacuum packages as is. If you notice that a package has accidentally
torn or has opened while food is in the freezer, it is still safe to use; merely
overwrap or rewrap it.
Freezer burn does not make food unsafe, merely dry in spots. It appears as
grayish-brown leathery spots and is caused by air reaching the surface of the
food. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the food.
Heavily freezer-burned foods may have to be discarded for quality reasons.
Color changes can occur in frozen foods. The bright red color of meat as
purchased usually turns dark or pale brown depending on its variety. This may be
due to lack of oxygen, freezer burn or abnormally long storage.
Freezing doesn't usually
cause color changes in poultry. However, the bones and the meat near them can
become dark. Bone darkening results when pigment seeps through the porous bones
of young poultry into the surrounding tissues when the poultry meat is frozen
The dulling of color in
frozen vegetables and cooked foods is usually the result of excessive drying due
to improper packaging or over-lengthy storage.
Freeze food as fast as possible to maintain its quality. Rapid freezing prevents
undesirable large ice crystals from forming throughout the product because the
molecules don't have time to take their positions in the characteristic
six-sided snowflake. Slow freezing creates large, disruptive ice crystals.
During thawing, they damage the cells and dissolve emulsions. This causes meat
to "drip"--lose juiciness. Emulsions such as mayonnaise or cream will
separate and appear curdled.
Ideally, a food 2-inches
thick should freeze completely in about 2 hours. If your home freezer has a
"quick-freeze" shelf, use it. Never stack packages to be frozen.
Instead, spread them out in one layer on various shelves, stacking them only
after frozen solid.
If a refrigerator freezing compartment can't maintain zero degrees or if the
door is opened frequently, use it for short-term food storage. Eat those foods
as soon as possible for best quality. Use a free-standing freezer set at 0° F
or below for long-term storage of frozen foods. And keep a thermometer in your
freezing compartment or freezer to check the temperature.
Length of time
Because freezing keeps food safe almost indefinitely, recommended storage times
are for quality only. Refer to the freezer storage chart at the end of this
document or see "A Quick Consumer Guide to Safe Food Handling" which
lists optimum freezing times for best quality.
If a food is not listed on
the chart, you may determine its quality after defrosting. First check the odor.
Some foods will develop a rancid or off odor when frozen too long and should be
discarded. Some may not look picture perfect or be of high enough quality to
serve alone but may be edible; use them to make soups or stews. Cook raw food
and if you like the taste and texture, use it.
Never defrost foods in a garage, basement, car, dishwasher or plastic garbage
bag; out on the kitchen counter, outdoors or on the porch. These methods can
leave your foods unsafe to eat.
There are three safe ways to
defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. It's best
to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Small items may
defrost overnight; most foods require a day or two. And large items like turkeys
may take longer -- one day for each 5 pounds of weight.
For faster defrosting, place
food in a leakproof plastic bag and immerse it in cold water. (If the bag leaks,
bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the
food. Tissues can also absorb water like a sponge, resulting in a watery
product.) Check the water frequently to be sure it stays cold. Change the water
every 30 minutes. After thawing, refrigerate the food until ready to use.
food, plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food
may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked
food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn't have been
Once food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without
cooking, although there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost
through defrosting. After cooking raw foods which were previously frozen, it is
safe to freeze the cooked foods. And if previously cooked foods are thawed in
the refrigerator, you may refreeze the unused portion.
If you purchase previously
frozen meat, poultry or fish at a retail store, you can refreeze if it has been
Cooking frozen foods
Raw or cooked meat, poultry or casseroles can be cooked or reheated from the
frozen state. However, it will take approximately one and a half times the usual
cooking time for food which has been thawed. Remember to discard any wrapping or
absorbent paper from meat or poultry.
When cooking whole poultry,
remove the giblet pack from the cavity as soon as you can loosen it. Cook the
giblets separately. Read the label on USDA-inspected frozen meat and poultry
products. Some, such as pre-stuffed whole birds, MUST be cooked from the frozen
state to ensure a safely cooked product.
Power outage in freezer
If there is a power outage, the freezer fails or if the freezer door has been
left ajar by mistake, the food may still be safe to use. As long as a freezer
with its door ajar is continuing to cool, the foods should stay safe overnight.
If a repairman is on the way or it appears the power will be on soon, just don't
open the freezer door.
A freezer full of food will
usually keep about 2 days if the door is kept shut; a half-full freezer will
last about a day. The freezing compartment in a refrigerator may not keep foods
frozen as long. If the freezer is not full, quickly group packages together so
they will retain the cold more effectively. Separate meat and poultry items from
other foods so if they begin to thaw, their juices won't drip onto other foods.
For short term power outages
-- less than 6 hours -- leave the door closed until the power returns. If the
power is off for more than 6 hours, you may want to put dry ice, block ice or
bags of ice in the freezer, or transfer foods to a friend's freezer until power
is restored. Use an appliance thermometer to monitor the temperature.
If it's freezing outside or
if there's snow on the ground, that might seem like a good place to keep food
frozen until the power comes on. However, foods stored in the great outdoors are
exposed to the sun, environmental contamination, roaming animals and birds. So
keep food indoors.
To determine the safety of
foods when the power goes on, check their condition and temperature. If food is
partly frozen, still has ice crystals or is as cold as if it were in a
refrigerator (40° F), it is safe to refreeze or use. It's not necessary to cook
raw foods before refreezing. Discard foods that have been warmer than 40° F for
more than 2 hours. Discard any foods that have been contaminated by raw meat
juices. Dispose of soft or melted ice cream for quality's sake.
Accidentally frozen cans, such as those left in a car or basement in sub-zero
temperatures, can present health problems. If the cans are merely swollen -- and
you are sure the swelling was caused by freezing -- the cans may still be
usable. Let the can thaw in the refrigerator before opening. If the product
doesn't look and/or smell normal, throw it out. DO NOT TASTE IT! However, if the
product does look and/or smell normal, thoroughly cook the contents by boiling
for 10 to 20 minutes right away. But if the seams have rusted or burst, throw
the cans out immediately.
Shell eggs should not be frozen. If an egg accidentally freezes and the shell
cracked during freezing, discard the egg. Keep an uncracked egg frozen until
needed; then thaw in the refrigerator. It can be hard cooked successfully but
other uses may be limited. That's because freezing causes the yolk to become
thick and syrupy so it will not flow like an unfrozen yolk or blend very well
with the egg white or other ingredients.