From a historical point of view, food preservation methods have been means of keeping mouths fed in times of hard ship for millennia. Canning, smoking, drying and salting, and more recently, freezing of foods are all great ways of keeping food safe to use much later down the road. Freezing is the most accessible method of food preservation today. Not everyone has access to equipment needed or the knowledge necessary to pressure can, smoke, or desiccate foods, but most people have access to a freezer.
Here are some methods that can be used to freeze foods effectively, which foods should be frozen like this, and how long they can last frozen:
- Flat on a tray: Lay these foods spaced out in a single layer on a rimmed tray. Place the tray on a flat surface in the freezer until food is thoroughly frozen. Move food to another container to store. Fruits and vegetables (8-10 months), herbs (12 months), cooked rice (1 month), cooked meatballs (4 months) all can be done with this method. Note that vegetables should be blanched prior to freezing.
- In bags: Cool any cooked food down to below 40F and then portion it into resealable bags. When freezing cheese, grate it from the block and add 2 tablespoons of flour to prevent sticking. Cooked pasta (1-2 months), uncooked grains and flour (indefinitely), soups and chili (4-6 months), cheese (6 months).
- Milk: Milk can be frozen in its original container provided that some (roughly 1 cup) is removed prior to freezing. As liquids freeze, they will expand; the last thing you need is half frozen milk everywhere. Milk can be frozen for up to 6 months.
- Eggs: Remove eggs from their shell and place them in a seal-able container. Eggs can be frozen intact like this or with the yolks and whites frozen separately. Frozen eggs can be held for up to 12 months.
- Bread: Bread and tortillas can be frozen, as is, for up to 6 months.
- Meat (immediately): If meat products are going to be frozen that needs to happen immediately after getting it home. To prevent having to thaw and refreeze, portion meats out according to your meal plans. Meats can be frozen in their original packaging or in freezer grade resealable bags. Meats can be held frozen for up to 4 months.
Before foods are placed in the freezer or refrigerator, they should be date marked, either directly on the resealable bag or on the container. Painters or scotch tapes work well as temporary labels! A food label at home should have the name of the food, how many portions there are, the date it was made, and what date it should be disposed.
Freezer storage should be organized by the “First In, First Out” method. This means that the oldest food is closer to the front and will be used before the newest food. As newer foods are put in the freezer, shift older foods forward and stock from the back. Use this method with pantry and refrigerated foods as well!
When it comes time to thaw food, the safest method to use is thawing in the refrigerator. This will increase the amount of time needed for it to completely thaw but keeping it in the fridge will greatly reduce the risk of spoilage or of a foodborne illness. A cool running water (below 70F) bath can be used to thaw but the water must be changed out at most every 30 minutes. Frozen foods can be thawed in the microwave provided that you immediately start cooking the food.
For more information on food safety and techniques please contact County Extension Agent Chris Coon at 254-435-2331 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.