Summer brings an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Sometimes, we have more food than we can use. Maybe you have a high-yielding garden or are stockpiling to make fewer trips to the local grocery. Put your freezer to good use this summer by freezing some fresh in-season foods for you to enjoy all year round. Freezing can save you money and keep you from wasting food. By following some simple freezing techniques, you can ensure that your food is safe to eat and tastes great.
Aside from unopened canned foods and eggs in shells, you can freeze almost anything. Freezing is a quick and easy method used to extend the shelf life of perishable foods. Some foods don’t freeze well and may separate or become mushy such as mayonnaise, cream sauce and lettuce. However, most perishable foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables and fruits are great freezing options to maintain their safety and quality.
Freezing food at or below 0 degrees does not destroy bacteria, but it does stop microorganisms that may be present on food from growing. Freezing helps prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast and mold that cause food spoilage and foodborne illness. Once thawed, microorganisms can become active again and multiply. Thaw foods safely in the fridge, in cold water or in the microwave and cook immediately. Allow enough space in the freezer for airflow to ensure food stays frozen.
Freeze food you know you will not use quickly sooner than later. Foods frozen during their peak typically taste better when thawed compared to food frozen right before it perishes. Freeze food you will not use as soon as possible to maintain its quality.
Freezing food does not destroy nutrients. However, natural chemical changes that occur in food, also known as “enzyme activity,” cause food to lose its flavor, color and nutrients with time. Freezing food slows down enzyme activity that leads to spoilage and deterioration of food, but it does not stop it so food quality may decline the longer it is in the freezer.
Blanching vegetables is a cooking technique that prevents deterioration in vegetables. You can blanch vegetables by boiling or steaming them for a few minutes then submerging them in ice water to stop the cooking process. Blanching also helps to rid any food of microorganisms and makes it more compact for freezing. To freeze herbs, dice up rinsed herbs and pack about one tablespoon in each ice cube tray space. Fill the spaces with 1-2 tablespoons of water or cooking oil. Once frozen, the herb cubes can be placed in a freezer-grade container or bag and stored in the freezer.
The texture of some produce after thawing will be much softer than when in raw form. For example, the high-water content in tomatoes freezes, causing the tomato cells to rupture and the texture of the tomato to be mushy and watery. The tomato could be used for stews or sauces, but may not taste good on a sandwich. Frozen fruit gets soft when completely thawed which is good for some recipes but best when partially thawed if eating it alone.
Proper packaging is another technique that helps food maintain its freshness and prevent freezer burn. When food is exposed to air in the freezer, it can oxidize and dry out, forming grayish-brown leathery spots known as freezer burn. Eating food with freezer burn will not hurt you, but it can be tough and tasteless. You can prevent freezer burn by wrapping foods tightly in heavy freezer paper, plastic wrap, freezer bags or foil and date the packages using the oldest items first. Avoid messy explosions by leaving sufficient space for food such as liquids that may expand when packed in proper containers.
You can refreeze cooked food that was previously frozen or food thawed in the fridge. Food loses moisture during the cooking process. Food can be frozen indefinitely and frozen food storage recommendations are solely for food quality. The USDA has a freezer storage chart accessible online or for download on their mobile application called “The Foodkeeper.” The storage chart provides storage advice for all foods.
Virginia Aparicio is a Purdue Extension educator in Elkhart County. She can be reached at 574-533-0554 or at [email protected].