Freezing and Thawing Fresh Food: 8 Dos and Don’ts – Everyday Health

Posted: October 24, 2020 at 12:56 am

Thanks to spending much more time hunkered down at home and cutting down on shopping excursions, this has been the year of stocking up and that means using every square inch of fridge space. Thats especially true in the age of COVID-19 when youre trying to support your immune system by eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. But what about your freezer capacity?

Making the most of that Deepfreeze can be a great way to keep your shopping trips limited, help with saving money, and give you nutritious, versatile options. As long as youre freezing the right way, that is.

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Here's a quick cheat sheet on what to keep in mind.

After freezing and thawing, some foods are exactly the same as theyd been fresh. For example, meats and fish return to their fresh state, as well as hard cheeses and sliced bread, according to East Lansingbased Felicia Wu, PhD, a professor in food safety, toxicology, and risk assessment at Michigan State University.

But softer cheeses often change texture, she says, such as goat cheese, Brie, or Camembert. Many fruits and vegetables also tend to undergo a texture transformation that makes them great for smoothies, soups, and casseroles but not as ideal for eating fresh.

A common misconception is that any bacteria in leftovers will be killed by freezing. Unfortunately, thats not the case, Wu says.

"Many foodborne microbes can withstand freezing and pose a problem later when the food is thawed, especially if its not subsequently cooked sufficiently," says Wu. "This is why, for example, not every fish can become sushi fish."

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration also points out that its unsafe to let food thaw at room temperature because bacteria can multiply rapidly and create toxins that will survive the cooking process even if the food is cooked to temperatures that kill the bacteria themselves.

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This isnt a food-safety tip, but your electricity bill will look better, says Wu. Using as much freezer space as possible increases your efficiency, she says it takes more energy to keep the space at below-freezing temperatures with just a few items in there.

Usually, plastic zip-top bags designed for freezing may cost more than regular plastic bags, but its worth the investment because "freezer bags" are not a gimmick, explains Pendleton, South Carolinabased Kimberly Baker, PhD, RD, food systems and safety program director at Clemson University.

"When packaging thats not designed for the freezer is used, the food will lose quality more quickly," she says. Thats because more air can get into the package, which can lead to freezer burn.

Previous research notes that freezer burn is a condition where exposure to air within the freezer causes moisture loss, and that subsequent dehydration can lead to food thats dry; has ice crystals on it; and shows changes in flavor, color, and texture after thawing. This doesnt affect safety, Baker says, but it may make the food unappealing in terms of flavor and texture.

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Once you put items in the freezer, their "sell by" date can act as a helpful guide for when you bought it, but its also a good idea to get into the habit of using a label system freezer tape is very handy and rotating older items to the front to be used sooner.

That way, you can freeze up to the appropriate time frame for each food type, says Janilyn Hutchings, certified food safety professional and food scientist at StateFoodSafety, an Orem, Utahbased food safety certification and training program for the hospitality industry. Here are some general guidelines:

The reason ground meats have a shorter time frame than the other types of foods listed above is they stand a relatively higher chance of bacteria exposure due to the way theyre processed and handled, says Cambridge, Massachusettsbased William Li, MD, cancer expert and author of Eat to Beat Disease. Also, even if youre thawing within the recommended time frame, he suggests smelling any meat once its thawed, because if the aroma is off, thats a sign its no longer safe to eat. Usually the scent is pungent and unpleasant, and may smell like ammonia due to the breakdown in proteins and fats, adds Wu.

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Seafood is highly perishable, which is why its great to have some in the freezer rather than hanging around for too long in the fridge, but how its handled and packaged can make a big difference, says Dr. Li.

"Commercially caught fish and shellfish, flash frozen on the boat at sea, are usually vacuum-sealed and safe to keep for six months, although the flavor may go stale if you keep it that long," he says.

Even mild thawing can shorten a fishs freshness, he adds, so its important to keep frozen seafood completely frozen. That means if youre running other errands after going to the grocery store, it may be worth bringing a cooler with ice packs to ensure your frozen fish stays at the right temperature.

If youre buying fresh fish, use freezer-designed packaging like freezer bags or freezer paper. You may also want to consider investing in a vacuum sealer for fish and other foods.

Thawing food properly is critical to preventing foodborne bacteria from multiplying to dangerous levels, says Hutchings. Dont plan on thawing any kind of food at room temperature, she advises, even seemingly "safer" options like leftovers or cooked meats. Instead, she offers these four methods:

When it comes to refreezing foods that have previously been frozen and then thawed, a good rule of thumb is to avoid it when you can, because the moisture thats lost through the initial thawing process will affect food quality, says Hutchings. That said, the USDA recommends these steps:

With safety procedures and good habits in place, you can make the most of your freezer as a go-to place for healthy foods. With a well-stocked space, you may even be able to stretch out the time between shopping rounds.

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Freezing and Thawing Fresh Food: 8 Dos and Don'ts - Everyday Health

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