Buy in bulk or prepare extra meals for the freezer — then follow some tips to keep food fresh, safe and flavourful when you freeze it.
It’s smart economics and a true time-saver to cook ahead and buy in bulk and freeze items so you’ll always be able to prepare quick and creative meals. We keep all sorts of things in our freezers, but need to remember some rules when freezing foods to keep them safe, fresh-tasting and flavourful.
Food freezes best and most completely in smaller containers. This allows the food to freeze faster and more solidly, discouraging the growth of any bacteria. Containers of four litres or smaller are ideal. If you are freezing a lot of hot food — large quantities of chilli, spaghetti sauce, soups or stew — stir the contents occasionally as it freezes to keep the cold circulating, and portion your large amount out into several smaller containers. The food should be approximately three inches thick within the container. Store hot items in the coldest section of the freezer until they are completely frozen throughout.
Even if you plan on using the frozen items soon, label everything with a note of the contents and the date it was frozen. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued some guidelines for how long items should be frozen before use to ensure good quality remains. Bacon and sausages should be used within two months of freezing. Items like casseroles, soups and stews can be frozen before use for up to three months. Frozen dinners, entrees and uncooked ground meats should retain their good quality for four months and uncooked roasts will be fine anywhere up to 12 months in the freezer if they are packaged carefully. Cooked poultry lasts up to four months, while uncooked poultry can live in your freezer for as long as one year. Storing items in airtight containers and wrapping them carefully is critical in preventing freezer burn and extending the life of frozen foods.
Most vegetables can go straight from the freezer to the oven; the exception is corn on the cob which should be partially defrosted before cooking. Water expands when freezing, and the high quantity of water contained in fruits and vegetables causes their cells to break down as the water they contain expands during freezing. This can cause some thawed fruits and vegetables to have a mushy texture even while the food is perfectly safe and edible.
Thawing foods at room temperature works for baked goods like muffins, breads and rolls and bagels. Other foods should be thawed in the refrigerator or on the thaw setting on the microwave.
Cheeses are difficult to thaw because the milk they contain tends to separate. The cheese will retain its flavour characteristics but may be slightly crumbly. Most susceptible to this are cream cheese and blue cheeses. When this happens, a good use for the cheese is to incorporate it into other dishes.
If you lose power, keep your freezer door closed! A fully stocked freezer should be able to keep food frozen for up to two days if the door remains closed.