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Freezing food a great way to reduce waste and save money

Freezing food a great way to reduce waste and save money
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Why freeze foods?

Dial a Dietitian

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, January / February 2016

A lot of people freeze food and leftovers. And why not? After all, not only does freezing food retain taste and quality, it's also a "cool" way to reduce waste and save money on groceries.

But freezing food is not always as simple as throwing something into the freezer and shutting the door. In fact, food that is improperly frozen can affect taste, texture, colour and quality, making it less enjoyable to eat.

With that in mind, here are a few guidelines to follow the next time you decide to put your food on ice.

Selecting food for freezing

Almost any food can be frozen. A food's structure will determine if and for how long it can be frozen. While most foods freeze very well, some do not. Foods that freeze well include meat, poultry, fish, most vegetables and fruits, grain products, nuts and seeds. Fresh vegetables need to be blanched before they are frozen. Blanching slows enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavour, colour, nutrients and texture. Foods that do not freeze well are canned foods (food can be frozen once out of can), eggs (in shells or hard boiled), egg-based sauces, liquid dairy, yogurts, some soft cheeses, and vegetables with high water content like lettuce. 

How to freeze

Maintain freezer temperature at -18 C (0 F) or below. Use a freezer thermometer to be certain. Freeze food as rapidly as possible to best maintain quality. Cool food quickly in shallow dishes before you freeze. Larger batches may be divided to cool more quickly. Hot items can be cooled at room temperature. Cooked foods should be refrigerated or frozen within two hours or sooner.

Placing food in a freezer

It is best to spread items out while freezing and stack once frozen. To help cool air circulate, leave a little space between packages and try not to over pack the freezer. 

Use proper packaging

Proper packaging is essential to maintain quality and prevent freezer burn. Freezer burn does not affect food safety, but it can affect quality. It is the result of exposure to air and moisture loss, which produces dry spots on food. Freezer burn can be cut away before or after cooking. However, heavily freezer-burned foods may need to be tossed. To avoid freezer burn, use moisture-proof freezer-grade packaging. Wrap foods tightly and remove all air before sealing. Leave some space for expansion when freezing liquids. 

Organize your freezer

To help keep track of the foods you freeze, use a permanent marker to label each package with a consistent dating system. Place new items at the back of the freezer and use within optimal storage time: First in, first out. Freezer storage guidelines relate to quality, not safety. Click here for more information on storing food.

Prepare food carefully

Freezing food does not kill bacteria that can cause food poisoning, but renders it inactive. If your food was contaminated before freezing, it will still harbour the same harmful bacteria once thawed. Safety risks come from how food is stored and prepared before freezing as well as thawing. Cooking foods to recommended temperatures is the only way to kill bacteria. Use a food thermometer to be certain. 

How to thaw food safely

It is unsafe to thaw frozen food at room temperature. Food can be thawed in the fridge. This method is slow, but safe. Food thawed in the fridge should be used within about three days. Foods can also be thawed in cold water or in the microwave. When thawing in cold water, change the water every 30 to 45 minutes. When thawing in the microwave set to the "defrost" or "50 per cent power" setting to ensure that the outer edges of the food do not begin to cook while the remainder is still frozen. If thawing a package of meat, poultry or fish that is in pieces, separate pieces as the food thaws. These methods are quicker but food must be used immediately after thawing. 

Refreezing thawed foods may be safe but best avoided due to additional loss of quality during thawing. Previously frozen foods can be refrozen after cooking. Lastly, "if in doubt, throw it out."

 Lise Timmerman is a registered dietitian with the Dial-a-Dietitian program.

Wave: November / December 2015

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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