Freezing for Food Preparation
We have already discussed canning in two previous articles. Canning is a method of preserving food for future consumption. Freezing is another way to preserve food. The process is much simpler; however, there are some important steps that you want to take so that the food will last and be good to eat when you finally prepare it. Additionally, you will want to prepare your food for freezing so that you are sure that it is safe to eat.
What Can You Freeze?
In a nutshell, you can freeze just about anything you want. There are a few exceptions, such as eggs that are still in the shell and food that has been canned at the manufacturing facility. However, you can freeze food that has been removed from the metal can.
Some foods freeze better than others. For example, mayonnaise and other condiments will not be as good after they are frozen. The same goes for many cream-based sauces. Most vegetables can be frozen; however, lettuce and similar types of vegetables will not be nearly as tasty if they have been frozen first.
Some foods are preserved better if they are frozen when raw. Fish, meat and poultry are prime examples of foods that should be raw when frozen.
Is Frozen Food Really Safe?
If you are asking this question, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a USDA/FSIS fact sheet, this very question is asked by thousands of concerned people who call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline. It’s important to understand what freezing does and does not do in order to answer this question.
Freezing does not destroy parasites or bacteria that are already in the food. However, it does inactivate them as long as the food is kept at a steady temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Even so, you should understand that the thawing process will reactivate them; therefore, thawed food should always be handled with the same care and cleanliness as raw meats and vegetables. Proper cooking will destroy any bacteria that are present in the thawed food.
Frozen Food Freshness and Quality
Many folks say that there is nothing better than a fresh, ripe tomato or a crisp, green bell pepper. I’m inclined to agree. In fact, I’m starting to get a little hungry just talking about it. However, it’s important to understand that ripening is actually a part of the larger process of decomposition. From the moment a vegetable or fruit is picked, enzymes go to work, changing the chemical makeup of the food. Freezing only slows down enzyme activity. Foods that are harvested and frozen at their peak quality will emerge from the freezing process tasting better.
Freezing any food at 0 F or lower is best as it will help the food keep its flavor, texture and coloration. Additionally, the freezing process will not significantly destroy the nutrients in the food. This is especially true for meat and poultry products.
Proper Packaging for Frozen Foods
Many meats and poultry products are safe when frozen in their original packaging. However, these packages are often permeable and will allow air into the food. Overwrapping the original package will deter this. Torn packaging can also be overwrapped and will remain safe.
By the way, freezer burn is the appearance of gray or brown spots on the frozen food. Often leathery in appearance, freezer burn does not necessarily mean that the food is unsafe. The quality of the food may suffer, however. Freezer burn spots can be cut from the food before cooking.
It is advisable to use bags and containers that are specifically designed for freezer use when freezing fresh fruits and vegetables. These materials have been designed and formulated to withstand the rigors of low temperatures over an extended period of time.
Preparation and Technique
Proper food preparation will enhance the quality of the frozen food, especially when it is stored for an extended time. Some vegetables may need to be blanched. This is a process that involves a short boiling of the food at high temperature and is followed by a quick, flash-chill in ice water. This is usually done with low-acid foods and the process is used to stop enzyme activity and reduce deterioration.
A microwave oven can also be used. It is still necessary to rapidly chill the food. Consult a good cookbook to determine the correct blanching time for your vegetables. Meats, poultry and high acid foods do not require blanching.
The initial freezing process should be done as quickly as possible. Do not stack foods on top of each other to be frozen. Laying them out individually promotes better airflow, speeding up the freezing process. Many freezers have a quick-freeze area that can be used for rapid freezing.
Storage Times for Frozen Foods
Foods that are frozen remain safe to eat indefinitely. However, extended frozen storage can reduce the quality of the food coloration and flavor. Therefore, the length of time is often a matter of taste, no pun intended. Long-term freezing is best accomplished with a stand-alone freezer instead of a freezer/refrigerator combination. Chest freezers keep the cold in better than uprights should the freezer door be opened often.
With either type of freezer, it is important to keep an eye on the freezer temperature as well as that of the refrigerator. Use a thermometer designed for this purpose to keep an accurate measurement of the temperature. The refrigerator should be set at 40 F or lower, but not so low that it freezes your food.
By using proper equipment and preparation techniques you can ensure that your frozen food will be tasty and safe for quite a long time.
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