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Cold as ice

Freezing foods is a great way to make your groceries last

Freezing foods is a great way to make your groceries last

May 20, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

To freeze or not to freeze? The answer to that question could do more than save your food. It could save you money.

Whether you are a single person just getting the swing of cooking for yourself, or a family with food by the freezerful, it's never too late, or too soon to go back to freezer basics - giving you the most bang for your buck.

"Freezing is like suspending food in time," said Sandy McCurdy, a spokeswoman with the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), a trade group for food scientists.

Freezing things slows oxidation, which affects taste and freshness, and inactivates germs in your food. But not all foods are meant to be frozen. Leaving foods in the box too long can ruin the food item. Either case leads to waste. The good news?

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"It's not hard to find good resources, a good guide for freezing," said Lynn Little, a family and consumer sciences educator with the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

She pointed consumers to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Freezing and Food Safety" online fact sheet and the "Ball Blue Book of Preserving." Little said the National Center for Home Food Preservation, based at the University of Georgia, was another good resource.

Little and McCurdy were willing to offer Herald-Mail readers a few tips.

  • Freeze your veggies. Well, some of them

    Little said the quick-heat process of blanching helps stop the enzymes that break down flavors in veggies.

    "You get it in and get it in the freezer," Little said.

    Still, there are some veggies that don't do as well, like cucumber. Cucumber and it's fellow water-rich foods - lettuce, celery and cabbage - end up like blocks.

    "You're better off eating them in season," Little said.

  • On freezing prepared foods

    While soups and certain cooked meats do just fine in the freezer, other prepared foods don't fare as well. Cheeses get crumbly. Egg whites get tough and rubbery. Irish potatoes get mealy.

    Certain noodles - like macaroni and spaghetti - get mushy and off-flavor, Little said. But when the noodles are frozen as part of a casserole, they do just fine.

    "The moisture from the other ingredients is what helps," Little said.

  • Meat me halfway

    McCurdy said cooked and processed meats, such as bacon or sausage, have shorter stays in the freezer than unprocessed meats.

    The reason, she said, is that when processed meats are frozen, the chemical makeup of the additives shift. Cooked meats are less dense than uncooked meats, making them more susceptible to oxidation - when oxygen gets added to the food's composition. Oxidation is the reason oil or butter goes rancid if frozen or kept on the counter for too long.

    Little recommends packaging and double-wrapping frozen food in quantities as you'd eat them to avoid having to thaw and refreeze, which can diminish freshness.

  • Don't get burned by freezer burn

    One of the biggest culprits to food ruin is freezer burn, which happens when ice crystals shift around and end up on the package, eventually drying out the food.

    "It's really a quality issue," McCurdy said.

    The IFT pegged self-defrosting freezers and individually packaged, quick-frozen products as two of the biggest culprits of freezer burn. McCurdy said some commercial-grade freezers can make food less prone to freezer burn. However "slow freezers," which most people have in their kitchen, are better at getting rid of germs.




    How long can you freeze it?



    Bacon and sausage -- 1 to 2 months

    Casseroles -- 2 to 3 months

    Frozen dinners -- 3 to 4 months

    Gravy, meat or poultry -- 2 to 3 months

    Ham, hotdogs and lunchmeats -- 1 to 2 months

    Uncooked roasts -- 4 to 12 months

    Uncooked ground meat -- 3 to 4 months

    Cooked meat -- 2 to 3 months

    Uncooked, whole poultry -- 12 months

    Uncooked poultry parts -- 9 months

    Uncooked chicken giblets -- 3 to 4 months

    Cooked poultry -- 4 months

    Soups and stews -- 2 to 3 months

    Uncooked wild game -- 8 to 12 months

    -- Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, food Safety and Inspection Service, www.fsis.usda.gov

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