Following a healthy diet means cooking more at home and ideally using your freezer to store certain foods for future meals. This not only means you’ll have healthy foods on hand, it also saves you money and time in the kitchen. Just remember: Freezing your food correctly is essential for safeguarding your health and preventing food-borne illness. Here are some guidelines to help you keep frozen food at its freshest and safest:
Set the freezer to 0°F. Freezers that are too warm (between 25ºF and 31ºF) freeze food too slowly, allowing ice crystals to form and creating freezer burn. Plus, if the temperature is too warm, your food may become contaminated with bacteria.
Store food in freezer bags. Use plastic freezer bags rather than plastic containers to store food. First wrap the food very tightly in foil or plastic wrap, then place the food in a bag, filling it to within 1/2 inch of the top. Press out as much of the air from the bag as you can and seal. Then, label the bag with the contents and the date so you’ll know how long it has been in the freezer.
Divide large amounts of leftovers and bring to room temperature before freezing. This way the food freezes faster and your freezer won’t lose its chill.
Don’t overstuff the freezer. Although a full freezer freezes better and uses less energy than an empty one, be careful not to overfill it — leave enough room for the cold air to circulate and avoid covering the air vents.
- Know when to toss. Be sure to mark any food you freeze with the date you put it in the freezer. Uncooked fish and shellfish will keep in the freezer for 3-6 months; poultry (pieces) 9 months and (whole) 1 year; lean steaks 6-12 months, chops 4-6 months, and roasts 4-12 months. You can tell if food has been frozen too long if the color has changed dramatically or if it looks dry. Frost on food (or freezer burn) indicates that the food was frozen too slowly or that it has partially thawed and refrozen. If that’s the case, get rid of it. Cooked leftovers, like soups and stews, taste best when used within a few months.