Let’s take a look at your freezer space, shall we?
If you raised an eyebrow at the request, you’re probably wondering why. If you raised both, you probably know why.
It’s true – the freezer space can very well be called the attic of our fridge – as we tend to dump foods there and not look at it for days – or weeks! Cluttered refrigerators are a mundane story, cluttered freezers more so. Beyond the newly packed items lie foods of yore you probably wouldn’t recognize anymore.
The freezer compartment tells a lot about the owner – lots of ice packs means either a sporty person or an accident-prone one, frozen dinners means couch potatoes and lots of ice-cream tubs means kids in the house or probably a pleasantly plump adult! And when it’s a family fridge, you’re going to need all the space that you can get to store a dozen other things!
So, what should stay and what should go? Technically, freezing can keep food safe almost indefinitely. The thing to keep in mind is that safe does not necessarily equate to a good taste and texture. The simplest rule to decide on foods to dump is this – whatever is beyond identifiable and makes you raise one eyebrow needs to go into the bin.
It is not irregular to get grossed out every time you think it’s time to clean the fridge. Going ‘Ew!’ need not be a part of your fridge routine – and knowing the golden rules of freezing food wisely will turn things around for you.
To start out, while freezing food, you need to accomplish the following five goals -
- Prevent freezer burn.
- Prevent loss of moisture
- Prevent smells of other foods transferring to and from your frozen item
- Wise and economic use of freezer space.
- Prevent food poisoning as your food cools.
The way to succeed in doing these is dependent on proper wrapping and storing of the foods.
Here’s how you go about it -
- One important rule is to leave as little air as possible in the containers or bags in which you put your food to be frozen. Make sure of that before you seal the freezer bag. Freezer safe containers that closely fit the food being frozen are also wise.
- When it comes to meats and baked goods, it is necessary to first tightly wrap them with foil before placing them in freezer bags. Remember that freezing meat in the store packaging isn’t ideal as the plastic or Styrofoam won’t suit the freezer temperatures. It is alright, however, if you use them within just one month.
- The trick is to freeze the food quickly to avoid bacteria growth – and this can be done by using small containers. Their capacity should be up to 4 quarts - and the food to be frozen within the container should be less than 3 inches thick.
- Hot foods need to be cooled first before they can be frozen. This is done by placing the pan of hot food in a large container of ice or ice water - and should be then stirred often to help in the circulation of the cold. A large quantity of hot food can be cooled by portioning it into smaller and shallower containers.
- A smart thing to do when freezing food is to label the freezer bags or containers with the dates – even if the food is to be used in a week or two.
- Until the food is completely frozen, it is wise to place the food items in the coldest part of the freezer.
- When thawing the food, remember that only bakery items like muffins or breads thaw at room temperature. For all other items, you need to thaw them either in the refrigerator – or in the microwave using the ‘thaw’ setting.
- Just because frozen foods are safe indefinitely need not be put into practice – like a year or two. It is best to use frozen foods within two to three months.
- There are some things to keep in mind when freezing dairy products. Firstly, though milk can be frozen, it might separate a little when it is thawed. When it comes to cheeses – hard and semi-hard cheeses can be frozen in blocks of 8 and 16 ounces – wrapped in plastic and put in freezer bags. Though they will still have the typical flavor once they are thawed – they might get a bit crumbly, especially blue cheeses, and thus work best when added to cooked dishes. The cheeses that take the most brunt are cream cheese and cottage cheese.
That was about how to freeze foods – though that is no good unless you know how long you can keep frozen food till it becomes rat poison! For starters, check the use-by-date for purchased frozen foods. And for other foods that you freeze, here is what expert say is the timetable for the best quality -
- Bacon and sausage: 1-2 months
- Casseroles: 2-3 months
- Soups and stews: 2 months
- Frozen dinners and entrees: 3-4 months
- Uncooked roasts: 4-12 months
- Uncooked ground meat: 3-4 months
- Uncooked whole poultry: 12 months
- Uncooked poultry parts: 9 months
- Cooked poultry: 4 months
About food that is not listed here, you should defrost it and check its quality. First try smelling it – as per experts, whatever smells weird or not okay should definitely be dumped. However, it the food doesn’t look as good as before though otherwise seems fine – you can use it in soups or stews. For thawed foods that has freezer burns, just cut off the burned spots. When it comes to raw foods – cook them, and if the taste and texture seem fine – you can use them.
Your knowledge of freezing foods is not complete without these facts which you may not have known before-
- While freezing to 0 degrees Fahrenheit renders microbes like bacteria and mold inactive, it does not completely destroy them. Under certain conditions, when the food is thawed, the microbes can become active again and multiply.
- Some science facts – Since water expands when frozen, this applies to fruits and vegetables with high water content as well. When they are frozen, their cell walls break due to the expanding frozen water within. This results in the mushy texture of thawed food sometimes.
- If the electricity goes off, do not open your freezer door. When closed, a fully loaded freezer can keep the food frozen up to one or two days even without electricity.
- Most frozen vegetables need not be defrosted before cooking – and can be used straight from the freezer. The exception is corn on the cob which needs to be partially defrosted first.
Frozen foods make a lot of sense when there is no languid and leisurely time to cook at all hours like the bygone days of our foremothers. While they perfected the art of cooking, it will help our families a lot if we could just perfect the art of freezing too!