Freezing meals safely
Tips to freeze and thaw food safely for best results.
Many food items can be frozen and kept on hand for future meals. Freezing food is one of the safest, easiest ways to preserve food. However, safety and quality of the food can be affected if certain steps are not followed. If the food is safe going into the freezer, and the proper temperature is maintained, then it should be safe coming out of the freezer.
Follow these tips to help freeze foods safely and get the most out of frozen food:
- Use proper storage containers for freezing. Freezer safe plastic containers or freezer quality bags are recommended. Do not re-use old margarine or cottage cheese containers for example. These are single-use containers that are not moisture-vapor resistant and do not produce airtight seals. If you use these, some moisture will likely be lost and result in freezer-burn. The same holds true for storage bags – they must be “freezer bags”, not just storage bags. Food stored in unacceptable containers may be “safe” to eat, but poor quality. There are a variety of freezer safe containers sold at any grocery store. You can also freeze foods in a casserole dish, as long as it is well covered, but it is important to thaw it slowly, as glass or ceramic may crack if warmed too quickly.
- Some food can be “tray packed”, for example, blueberries. Spread them out on a tray, freeze overnight and then transfer to a freezer bag or container. This allows for you to remove the berries a portion at a time without them being bunched together. This works great for use in smoothies or oatmeal for example.
- Freezer baggies work well for many foods, including raw meat in a marinade, soups and stews. Freezing it flat takes less time to thaw than if it was in a rounded shape, and often stacks better in a freezer.
- If you are freezing a cooked meal, cool it in the refrigerator or a tray of ice before placing it in the freezer. Cooling first prevents the formation of ice crystals in the freezer, which can lead to freezer burn.
- Don’t overload the freezer, as you don’t want to “warm-up” the freezer and cause ice crystals to form on the food. If freezing many items, you want to place them first on a contact surface of the freezer, then after it is frozen, you can layer or stack the food.
- When freezing large batches of food, like soup, you may want to lower the temperature of the freezer to -10 degrees F until they are frozen, to prevent the freezer temp from going warmer than 0 degrees F.
- Make sure to label the food with at least the food item and the packaging date, but you may also want to include ingredients, the number of servings, cooking directions and additional instructions – such as adding ingredients that weren’t frozen with the meal.
- When ready to thaw, the ideal method is allowing it to thaw in the refrigerator, which may take 2-3 days. Many foods can be cooked from the frozen state, but if thawing in the microwave, make sure to cook it following this thawing method. Foods can also be thawed under cool running water – however, this would not be ideal for a prepared casserole.
- To reheat frozen meals, cook to 165 degrees F.
- To know how long to store food in the freezer, download the Food Keeper app or visit foodsafety.gov .
To know more about freezing prepared foods, including which foods do not freeze well, visit http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/FreezingPreparedFoods.pdf. Michigan State University Extension recommends following approved guidelines and has community-based classes on food preservation, including freezing food. Contact your local MSU Extension office to find out more about classes near you.