March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Freezing is an effective way to make perishable items last longer. The process of freezing prevents the growth of bacteria, yeasts and molds that cause food spoilage and food poisoning. However, it is important to follow these tips to safely freeze and protect the quality of your foods.
Proper Storage Temperature and Time
Keep your freezer at or below 0°F and your food will always be safe. Only the quality may suffer with lengthy freezer storage. Built-in temperature control dials may not be accurate, so you should use a separate appliance thermometer to check the internal freezer temperature. These thermometers are available in grocery, hardware and kitchen specialty stores.
Use the "Time to Toss" feature on the Is My Food Safe? App or the Refrigerator/Freezer Storage Chart to determine proper storage times. Recommended storage times are for quality only because the process of freezing keeps food safe almost indefinitely.
What Can You Freeze?
You can freeze almost any item with some exceptions including canned food or eggs in shells. You can safely freeze items such as mayonnaise, cream sauce and lettuce, but the quality will suffer. Meat, poultry, seafood and other vegetables are great foods to freeze because they will maintain their quality longer than if cooked.
Packaging for the Freezer
Food items should be tightly packed in freezer bags or airtight containers. Squeeze air from bags before sealing and leave some space in containers in case foods expand. If moisture escapes, frozen food can become dry, tough and may develop "freezer burn."
To prevent moisture loss, use packaging designed for freezing including:
- "Can or freeze" glass jars
- Plastic freezing containers
- Heavyweight aluminum foil
- Plastic-coated freezer paper
- Polyethylene wrap and bags
- Freezer-safe bags
Important: Remember to label and date foods before placing in the freezer with these handy freezer labels. Do not use cardboard cartons or reuse plastic containers from cottage cheese, ice cream, whipped topping, margarine, etc., since these containers were not designed to safely freeze foods.
Preventing Freezer Burn
Freezer burn is the white, dried-out patches that appear on the surface of frozen foods. Although freezer burn won't make you sick, it makes frozen foods — such as meat and produce — tough and tasteless.
Here are some tips on how to prevent freezer burn:
- Wrap freezer items in heavy freezer paper, plastic wrap, freezer bags or foil.
- Date all freezer packages and use the oldest food first.
- Make older items easier to access by placing new items toward the back of the freezer.