This information has been reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by P.H. Schmutz, HGIC Information Specialist, and E.H. Hoyle, Extension Food Safety Specialist, Clemson University. (New 09/99.)
Freezing is one of the simplest and least time-consuming ways to preserve foods at home. Freezing does not sterilize food; the extreme cold simply retards growth of microorganisms and slows down changes that affect quality or cause spoilage in foods. Freezing cannot improve the flavor or texture of any food, but when properly done it can preserve most of the quality of the fresh product. Select only the best-quality fruits and vegetables at their peak of maturity for freezing.
Foods for your freezer must have proper packaging materials to protect their flavor, color, moisture content and nutritive value from the dry climate of the freezer. Packaging materials must:
There are two types of packaging materials for home use — rigid containers and flexible bags or wrappings.
Rigid Containers: Rigid containers made of plastic or glass are suitable for all packs and are especially good for liquid packs. Straight sides on rigid containers make frozen food much easier to get out. Rigid containers are often reusable and make the stacking of foods in the freezer easier. Cardboard cartons for cottage cheese, ice cream and milk are not sufficiently moisture- and vapor-resistant to be suitable for long-term freezer storage, unless they are lined with a freezer bag or wrap. Covers for rigid containers should fit tightly or the seal should be reinforced with freezer tape, which is especially designed to stick at freezing temperature.
Regular glass jars break easily at freezer temperatures. If using glass jars, choose wide-mouth dual-purpose jars made for freezing and canning. These jars have been tempered to withstand extremes in temperature. The wide mouth allows easy removal of partially thawed foods. If standard canning jars with narrow mouths are used for freezing, leave extra headspace (see Table 1) to allow for expansion of foods during freezing. Expansion of the liquid could cause the jars to break at the neck. Some foods will need to be thawed completely before removal from the jar.
Flexible Bags or Wrappings: Bags and sheets of moisture- and vapor-resistant materials, heavy-duty aluminum foil, and laminated papers are suitable for dry-packed vegetables and fruits, meats, fish, or poultry. Bags can also be used for liquid packs. Laminated papers are sometimes used as protective overwraps. Protective cardboard cartons may be used to protect bags and sheets against tearing and to make stacking easier. Lightweight (household) aluminum foil, wax paper and bread wrappers are not sufficiently moisture- and vapor-resistant to be suitable for long-term freezer storage.
1. Center meat on paper.
2. Bring two sides of paper together at top.
3. Fold down about ½ to ¾ inch.
4. Roll folded edge down until snug against meat.
5. Turn package over. Press out air from sides.
6. Fold ends into triangles.
7. Bring to center and tape to secure.
8. Label and date.
1. Place meat at one corner of paper.
2. Roll up tightly towards opposite corner.
3. Tuck sides in.
4. Roll to end of paper.
5. Seal open edges with freezer tape.
|Type of Pack||Container With
Wide Top Opening
Narrow Top Opening
|*Fruit packed in juice, syrup or water; crushed or puréed fruit; or fruit juice.
**Fruit or vegetables packed without added sugar or liquid.
***Headspace for juice should be 1½ inches.
|Liquid pack*||½ inch||1 inch||¾ inch***||1½ inch|
|Dry pack**||½ inch||½ inch||½ inch||½ inch|
A full freezer is most energy efficient. Post a frozen foods inventory near the freezer and keep it up-to-date by listing the foods and dates of freezing as you put them in the freezer. Check them off as you take them out. By keeping an inventory, you will know the exact amounts and kinds of foods that are in the freezer at all times. It also helps to keep foods from being forgotten.
Maintain the storage temperature at 0 °F or lower. At higher temperatures, foods lose quality much faster. Keep a freezer thermometer in your freezer and check the temperature frequently.
*Note: Cucumbers and cabbage can be frozen as marinated products such as "freezer slaw" or "freezer pickles." These do not have the same texture as regular slaw or pickles.
When using seasonings and spices, season lightly before freezing, and add additional seasonings when reheating or serving. Pepper, cloves, garlic, celery seasonings, green pepper, imitation vanilla and some herbs tend to get stronger and bitter. Onion, paprika and curry change flavor during freezing. Salt loses flavor and has the tendency to increase rancidity of any item containing fat.
|Freezer burn-(Surface of food light colored and dried out; food is tough, dry and less flavorful)||Torn or unsealed packages||Be sure all packages are tightly sealed so no air can get in. Handle carefully to avoid tears.|
|Packaging not moisture- and vapor-resistant||Use only packaging approved for use in freezing.|
|Too much air in package||Always press out all air in wrapped foods. Use just the right size containers for the amount of food and proper headspace.|
|Gummy liquid in fruits||Fruits frozen too slowly or freezer temperatures too warm or fluctuating||Freeze foods at 0 ºF or below immediately after packaging and maintain that temperature throughout storage. Do not freeze more than 2 to 3 pounds of food per cubic foot of storage space at one time.|
|Mushy food||Large ice crystals form in the food,
breaking the cell structure
|"Grassy" flavors in vegetables||Freezing unblanched vegetables||Blanch all vegetables as directed.|
|Green vegetables turn olive brown colors|
|Rancid flavors - (strong oily-like flavor in fats)||Spoilage of the fat in a product||Blanch all vegetables as directed. Package food correctly and exclude all unnecessary air. Do not store for longer than recommended.|
|Maroon-colored bones or pink meat in frozen poultry after it is cooked||Hemoglobin (coloring matter) in bones||Natural occurrence. There’s nothing wrong with the meat.|
Can Frozen Food be Stored in Refrigerator-Freezer Combinations? Refrigerator-freezer combinations can be used for storing frozen food if the freezer is a true freezer (will maintain 0 °F or less) and not just a freezing compartment. A better-quality product will be maintained at 0 °F or less. If a freezer compartment is used, store food for only one to two weeks.
How Long Will Food Remain Frozen if the Power Goes Off? Foods stay frozen longer if the freezer remains unopened, is full, is in a cool place and is well-insulated. Usually food in a loaded freezer will stay frozen for two to four days, depending on the size of the freezer. A half-filled freezer will keep food frozen only about 24 hours. Cover the freezer with blankets, keeping them away from the compressor, to help hold the cold.
Can Food be Refrozen if it has Thawed? Foods that have only partially thawed and still have ice crystals in the package can be safely refrozen, though quality will be poorer. Meat, fish, poultry, prepared foods, vegetables and fruits can be refrozen if they have been kept at a temperature of 40 °F or below and if their color and odor are good. However, quality will be lower. If ice cream is partially thawed, throw it out. Its texture will not be acceptable and if its temperature reaches above 40 °F, it could be unsafe.
The recommended storage times for home-frozen products held at 0 °F are given below. For best quality, use the shorter times. After these times, the food should be safe, just lower in quality.
|Butter or Margarine||9 months|
|Cheese, Dry-cured Cottage Cheese or Ricotta||2 weeks|
|Cheese, Natural process||3 months|
|Cream (all kinds)||2 months|
|Cream, Whipped||1 month|
|Egg Whites or Yolks||12 months|
|Fish, "Fatty"||3 months|
|Fish, "Lean"||6 months|
|Fish, Shellfish||3 months|
|Fruits (except Citrus)||8-12 months|
|Fruits, Citrus Fruits & Juices||4-6 months|
|Ice Cream or Sherbet||1 month|
|Meat, Ground or Stew||3 months|
|Meat, Cooked or Leftover||2-3 months|
|Milk, Fresh Fluid||1-3 months|
|Poultry, Cooked with gravy||6 months|
|Poultry, Cooked without gravy||1 month|
|Poultry, Duck or Goose||6 months|
|Poultry, Uncooked (whole) Chicken or Turkey||1 year|
|Poultry, Uncooked Chicken parts||9 months|
|Poultry, Uncooked Turkey parts||6 months|
|Roasts, Fresh Beef or Lamb||12 months|
|Roasts, Fresh Pork or Veal||8 months|
|Steak or Chops, Fresh Beef||12 months|
|Steak or Chops, Fresh Lamb or Veal||9 months|
|Steak or Chops, Fresh Pork||4 months|
|Variety Meats, Fresh||4 months|
|Yogurt (regular), Plain||1 month|
|Yogurt (regular), Flavored||5 months|
Reynolds, Susan and Paulette Williams. So Easy to Preserve, Bulletin 989. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Revised by Judy Harrison, 1993.
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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.