Elizabeth S. Reames | 5/19/2008 11:01:31 PM
If you're one of the many people who is buying and freezing foods in quantity to help combat rising food costs, don't let freezer burn defeat your efforts, advises LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.
“Poorly packaged frozen food dries out and loses its colors, flavors and nutritive value,” Reames said. “But proper packaging will prevent ‘burned’ food and protect foods from off flavors and odors.”
Although a food with freezer burn is safe to eat, the quality is lower, the LSU AgCenter nutritionist explained.
“You can cut away freezer-burned spots either before or after cooking. If a food is heavily freezer-burned, it may be desirable to discard it for quality reasons.”
You can freeze almost any food, although some exceptions are canned foods or eggs in shells. Once food is out of the can, however, you may freeze it.
Foods for the freezer must have proper packaging materials to protect flavor, color, moisture content and nutritive value, Reames points out.
She says to select packaging materials that are moisture and vapor resistant; durable and leak-proof; resistant to oil, grease and water; not susceptible to becoming brittle and cracking at low temperatures; able to protect foods from absorbing other flavors or odors; easy to seal; and easy to label.
Suitable packaging materials include rigid plastic containers with straight sides, glass jars made for freezing and canning, heavy-duty aluminum foil, freezer paper and moisture/vapor-resistant bags.
Containers intended for short-term storage, such as bread wrap; cottage cheese, milk or ice cream cartons; regular aluminum foil; butcher wrap; or waxed paper do not provide effective protection against flavor and moisture loss or freezer burn during long-term storage.
“It is safe to freeze meat or poultry directly in its supermarket wrapping but this type of wrap is permeable to air,” Reames said. “Unless you will be using the food in a month or two, overwrap these packages using heavy-duty foil, freezer paper secured with freezer tape or a plastic bag or wrap suitable for freezer storage.”
Glass jars used for freezing should be made for the purpose. Regular glass jars may not withstand the extremes in temperature. Baking dishes can be used for freezing, heating and serving. Dishes may be covered with a heavy aluminum foil taped with freezer tape. Ice cube trays are good for freezing foods in small amounts. Freeze food until firm and then transfer to freezer bags.
Packaging foods. Cool all foods before packing. Pack foods in quantities that are usable for a single meal. Pack cold foods tightly into containers. Because most foods expand during freezing, allow ample headspace (space between food and closure). The amount of space needed will vary depending on the food and size of containers. When packing food in bags, press out excess air before sealing. Label and date each package. It also is helpful to list number of servings on the label.
For quicker freezing, place packages among already-frozen foods. Leave a small space between packages and add only the amount of unfrozen food to the freezer that will freeze within 24 hours, which is about 2 to 3 pounds of food for each cubic foot of freezer capacity.
Loading the freezer. Use a freestanding freezer set at zero degrees or lower for long-term storage of frozen foods. Keep a thermometer in your freezing compartment or freezer to check the temperature.
If the freezing compartment in your refrigerator can't maintain zero degrees or if the door is opened frequently, use it for short-term food storage. Eat those foods as soon as possible for best quality.
Freezing pointers. Freeze foods at zero degrees or lower. To freeze foods rapidly, set the temperature control at minus 10 degrees – or lower it 24 hours in advance.
Freeze foods when they are packaged and sealed. Do not overload your freezer with unfrozen food. Overloading slows down the freezing rate, and foods that freeze too slowly may lose quality.
Place packages in contact with refrigerated surfaces in the coldest part of the freezer.
Leave a little space between packages so air can circulate freely. When the food is frozen, store the packages close together.
Keeping inventory. Keep a list of all the foods in the freezer. Update the list each time you put food in or take it out of the freezer. Use of an inventory can prevent overstorage of foods and loss of quality. Although food stored constantly at zero degrees will always be safe, the quality may suffer with lengthy freezer storage.
For information about recommended freezer storage times, click on the USDA’s Cold Storage Chart at www.foodsafety.gov/~fsg/f01chart.html.
For additional information about freezing foods, contact an LSU AgCenter Extension family and consumer science agent or visit the food and health section on the LSU AgCenter Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com.