Freezing food is an excellent way to reduce food waste, especially when you prepare large meals. Most foods can be safely frozen as long as you follow best practice freezing instructions. Knowing how to freeze food properly can help you pinch pennies -- and save you time in the kitchen.
Foods That Can Be Frozen
With a few exceptions almost any food can be frozen, notes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Examples include:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Canned foods once they are out of the can
- Breads and cereals
- Bake goods
- Meat, poultry, and seafood (cooked and uncooked)
- Raw or cooked eggs (unshelled)
- Milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese
- Leftover cooked meals
- Coffee beans
- Leftover frying oils
- Baby food
What Not to Freeze
Certain foods just don't freeze well. According to the USDA, examples include:
- Eggs in shells
- Canned foods still in cans
- Salads containing lettuce or mayonnaise
- Cream sauces
The University of Georgia says to avoid freezing foods in the cartons or containers they come in, such as milk cartons and yogurt or cottage cheese containers. This is because these containers are not moisture-vapor resistant enough and don't produce air-tight seals. Narrow mouth jars can break in the freezer from built-up pressure from food expansion during the freezing process.
While you can freeze cheese and yogurt, you might notice a change in texture after freezing and thawing these items. For this reason, Clemson University recommends using thawed cheese in shredded or crumbled form -- or in cooked dishes. Furthermore, active live cultures found in yogurt may be destroyed during the freezing process.
When freezing foods for use at a later date, it's best to use airtight freezer-safe containers. These include rigid containers made of heavy duty glass with wide openings, plastic or aluminum airtight containers, zipped air-tight plastic bags, vacuum-sealed bags, baking dishes covered in aluminum foil, and heavy-duty foil wrap, notes North Dakota State University (NDSU).
Decide what container to use based on the food you're try to freeze. For example:
- Ice cube trays work well when you're freezing liquids.
- Aluminum foil is a good choice for breads and baked goods, but not for liquids.
- Vacuum-sealed bags work well with just about any food -- especially raw meats, fruits packed in liquid, and blanched veggies.
- Using baking dishes covered in aluminum foil is a good choice for frozen casseroles.
- When you're trying to save space in the freezer, choose shallow containers or zipped air-tight bags.
How to Pack Food for Freezing
Proper packing is important to freeze foods safely. Cool all hot foods thoroughly before placing these items in freezer-safe containers. Eliminate as much air as possible from your container; then seal it to prevent freezer burn and help preserve the food's texture, taste, and color.
It's best to pack foods in small portions, so when you thaw the food you'll only thaw what you'll use right away. Doing this also helps you make the most of your freezer space.
It's best to label and date foods before freezing them, so you know when to throw the food out. Place freezer tape on freezer-safe containers and label them with the type of food you're freezing and the date.
How Long Can You Keep Frozen Food?
The amount of time you can keep food in the freezer varies, generally ranging from 1 to 12 months. The University of Nebraska and USDA provide extensive lists of recommended freezer storage times. A few examples include:
- Milk: 1 month
- Butter or margarine: 12 months
- Cottage Cheese: 3 months
- Cheese: 4 to 6 months
- Fresh chicken: 6 to 8 months
- Cooked chicken: 6 months
- Fresh fish: 3 to 6 months
- Cooked fish: 1 month
- Shrimp: 6 to 12 months
- Eggs: 12 months
- Fresh fruit: 6 to 12 months
- Bread: 2 to 3 months
- Casseroles: 2 to 3 months
- Dinners and entrees: 3 to 4 months
- Gravies and soups: 2 to 3 months
It's safest to thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, notes NDSU. You can also thaw frozen food by placing it in a leak-proof plastic bag in cold water. If you're planning to eat frozen food immediately after you thaw it, you can defrost it in the microwave using a microwave-safe dish.
When packaged properly, you can safely freeze just about any food. Doing so helps reduce food waste and may save you time in the kitchen!