Freezing Food: Is It Safe?

At times, we realize that we’ve bought more produce than we can consume, or have excess quantities of a cooked meal and wonder if it’s safe to freeze such foods. At other times, we wonder if the food in our freezer is safe to consume. Is freezing safe? And how does it affect the quality of food? We’re going to advise you on the most appropriate ways to freeze food, and provide you with some insight on the effect that freezing has on food.

In general, if food is frozen below -18 degrees Celsius, it seldom poses a safety concern. This is primarily due to the fact that freezing inactivates microbes such as bacteria, yeasts and mold. Remember, however, freezing does not destroy these microbes. Once these frozen foods are thawed, the microorganisms will begin to multiply provided they are in an environment that favors growth. For this reason, you must thaw frozen foods with caution.

Almost any food can be frozen, with the exception of eggs and canned food (if it remains in the can, that is); however, not all foods retain their pre-frozen qualities equally well. For example, meat and poultry freeze well, but lettuce doesn’t.

Food quality is affected by the enzyme activity in the food. Enzymes are found in most foods and catalyze certain chemical reactions such as the ripening of fruits and vegetables. Freezing does not stop enzyme activity, but does slow it down. This leads to slow, but progressive deterioration in the quality of frozen food.

Vegetables are more affected by enzyme activity than meat/poultry and fruit. For this reason, vegetables are often blanched (a process whereby the vegetable is quickly cooked in boiling water for a short period of time) prior to freezing. The heat exposure destroys the active enzymes. Blanching, however, does cause partial nutrient loss and for this reason, fresh vegetables are recommended over frozen vegetables due to their higher nutrient content.

You may also notice that frozen food changes in color.  Some may have dry, grayish, leathery spots better known as “freezer burn.” This is just a result of cold air coming into contact with the food, and does not make the food unsafe. Just cut these portions away and you’ll be good to go. Meat may go from being red to looking dark or pale brown, and vegetables may look duller in color than usual. This is usually due to the lack of oxygen and excessive drying of these foods in the freezer. Poultry, however, does not usually change in color when frozen.

Below is a table from the United States Department of Agriculture, highlighting the recommended freezing times for different food products:

 

Item Months
Bacon and Sausage 1 to 2
Casseroles 2 to 3
Frozen Dinners and Entrees 3 to 4
Gravy, meat or poultry 2 to 3
Ham, Hotdogs and Lunchmeats 1 to 2
Meat, uncooked roasts 4 to 12
Meat, uncooked steaks or chops 4 to 12
Meat, uncooked ground 3 to 4
Meat, cooked 2 to 3
Poultry, uncooked whole 12
Poultry, uncooked parts 9
Poultry, uncooked giblets 3 to 4
Poultry, cooked 4
Soups and Stews 2 to 3
Wild game, uncooked 8 to 1

 

So, now that we’ve confirmed that most frozen foods are safe to consume, how do we thaw these foods to ensure that they remain safe for consumption? The idea is to thaw the food as quickly as possible in order to prevent bacterial growth. The longer the food is left in the danger zone (four to 60 degrees Celsius) where bacterial growth is at its peak, the higher the chances of the food becoming unsafe. Below are some tips for you to follow when thawing food:

  1. Vegetables can generally go straight from the freezer to the stove.
  2. Thaw frozen meat and poultry in either of the following ways:
    • Microwave. Cook the food immediately after microwaving as some portions may begin to cook immediately.
    • Refrigerator. This might take some time, so plan ahead!
    • Cold water. Make sure the water stays cold by changing it every 30 minutes.
  3. NEVER thaw foods on the kitchen counter! This will make your food unsafe to eat, especially if you do not cook it well.

In conclusion, freezing is a good way to keep your foods safer for longer, provided that the temperature of the freezer is maintained at -18 degrees Celsius. Also, pay close attention to the recommended thawing methods, as they are vital in keeping your foods safe.

Disclaimer:

This article offers general advice and may not be applicable to you. Before making any changes to your diet, be sure to consult a qualified health-care professiona

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