Freezing Food

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Freezing Food

  • Your freezer should be kept at or below 0°F. This can be checked by keeping a thermometer in your freezer.
  • If you are not planning to eat your leftovers within a few days or want to keep leftovers longer, store them in the freezer. This will stop bacteria from growing.
  • Freeze foods in portion sizes you’ll need for future meals. For example, if there are two in your family and you each eat a cup of rice for a meal, freeze in two-cup portions.
  • To hasten thawing when freezing foods: freeze in a thinner, flattened shape in freezer bags or freezer foil. A round shape takes longer to thaw through to the middle. Flatter packages also will stack better in your freezer.
  • Remember to cool foods to refrigerator temperature before putting them in your freezer.
  • Pack foods fairly tightly into containers or press out excess air when packing food in bags. For most foods, it’s helpful to leave a little space (about ½ inch) between the food and the freezer package closure to allow for expansion of the food as it freezes.
  • While frozen food remains safe indefinitely at 0°F, the quality deteriorates the longer it’s stored.
  • “Freezer burn,” when the surface of the food appears light-colored and dried out, occurs when moisture on the surface evaporates. Proper cooling, air removal, moisture-vapor-resistant packaging, a tight seal, and an appropriate length of storage help prevent freezer burn. While a food with freezer burn is safe to eat, the quality is lower.
    • Prevent ice cream freezer burn by placing plastic wrap on the top before replacing the lid.
    • Label each package with the type and amount of contents. Use the dates to assure products are eaten while the quality is still good.
    • If you’re freezing several packages at once, leave a little space between them so air can circulate freely and they freeze faster. Move them closer together when they’re frozen.

Foods that DON'T freeze well

  • Cooked eggs
  • Cooked “chunks” of potatoes (mashed and twice-baked may freeze satisfactorily)
  • Custards and cream puddings, by themselves or in pies
  • Potato salad
  • Pasta
  • Raw, watery vegetables such as lettuce, cucumbers, and radishes; tomatoes, celery, and cabbage might be satisfactorily frozen as an ingredient in an already cooked dish such as a soup or casserole.
  • Yogurt and sour cream
  • Mayonnaise may separate during freezing and thawing
  • Sauces and gravies thickened with flour or cornstarch may separate and bread down when frozen
  • Fried foods may lose their crispiness
  • Crumb toppings, such as on casseroles, may become soggy after freezing.

Sometimes you will see these foods in commercially frozen products because food companies have equipment that freezes food faster and helps retain quality better. Also, various ingredient, generally unavailable to home cooks, are used commercially to help prevent frozen foods from breaking down.

Before you double a recipe for frozen leftovers, experiment by freezing a small amount the next time you make the recipe. If you’re satisfied with the results, prepare extra food for freezing when you make the recipe again.

As a general rule, foods with high water content, such as the vegetables in our list, do not freeze well. The water in food expands during freezing and breaks down the food’s structure, making the food mushy when thawed. This is why frozen fruit packages often advise eating the fruit while still slightly frozen.

Packaging food for the freezer

Freezing Wrapping Materials

  • Suitable freezer wrapping materials include freezer paper, plastic freezer bags, and freezer aluminum foil.
  • Check wrapping labels for specific information about whether the wrappings work for freezing. For example, not all plastic bags are designed for freezer use. It’s important to use materials intended for freezing as they’re more likely to keep moisture out and less likely to tear in the freezer.
  • For freezer paper, check directions for which side of the paper is placed next to the food. Unless directed otherwise, the plastic-coated side goes next to food. Secure freezer paper with freezer tape.

Freezer containers

  • Rigid freezer containers include metal, foil, plastic, glass, and ceramic containers identified by the manufacturer as suitable for freezing. CAUTION: Carefully read manufacturer’s directions about safe handling when using glass or ceramic dishes labeled freezer/microwave/oven safe.
  • Foil and metal pans for well for freezing foods you’ll reheat in the oven. Cover pan tightly with freezer-quality foil or place in a plastic freezer bag. Metal/foil pans cool quicker and heat faster than ceramic or glass containers. Note: foil containers aren’t meant to be reused; discard after using.
  • Consider freezer/microwave-safe containers for foods you’ll reheat in the microwave.
  • Choose a container that fits the amount of food you’re freezing.
    • Some containers aren’t suitable for freezing. For example, milk and cottage cheese cartons aren’t moisture-vapor-resistant enough for freezing.

This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP. This institution is an equal opportunity provider.