QUESTION: What’s one of the easiest-to-use food preservation tools that you’ve already got in your kitchen?
ANSWER: Your freezer!
You can use your freezer to preserve fruits and vegetables to cook with later, and to add to smoothies, soups, baked goods, etc. Many of us have wanted to try canning, jamming and other methods of food preservation in the past. But as exciting as those methods are, they can be time-consuming and often require equipment and/or tools you may not have on hand.
We’ll be covering everything you need to know about freezing as a preservation method and sharing resources to help you get started. Keep reading to become a “freezer hero”!
Why Should I Freeze My Food?
Freezing your food is a great preservation method, even for those with busiest lifestyles. It’s a great way to save money, shorten meal prep or cooking times, and prevent wasted food!
Save money – Buy-one, get-one free promotions on foods are common – especially on produce in the summer- and most of us aren’t able to eat all the extra food we buy on sale before it goes bad. Instead of saving money, we may have just ended up wasting it on food we weren’t able to eat. If you have a plan in advance for how you can preserve your food, taking advantage of sales and buying in bulk to save money makes sense!
Faster cooking and meal prep – You can cut down on cooking and meal prep times by preparing and freezing some ingredients ahead of time. You can freeze chopped onions and cooked chicken, and have them ready to help you whip up a weeknight dinner in no time! Previously cooked meats, soups, and casseroles freeze well and can reduce your cooking time – leaving you with more free time.
Preventing wasted food – Last, but not least, freezing (and all other food preservation methods) are a great way to prevent wasted food. Wasting food not only wastes your hard-earned money, but the natural resources, time, and labor that are used to produce it. Uneaten food and food scraps that are disposed of in landfills release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, when they decompose.
How Does Freezing Work to Preserve Food?
Freezing preserves food by preventing microorganisms from growing on it and slowing down the enzyme activity that causes food to spoil. “As the water in the food freezes into ice crystals, it becomes unavailable to those microorganisms that need it for growth.” Learn more about the science of freezing food and how you can use it to your advantage to freeze your food most efficiently.
What Can I Freeze?
Essentially all fruits and vegetables freeze well, including berries, mangoes, cherries, corn, tomatoes, onions, and pumpkins. However, freezing isn’t just for fruits and vegetables; did you know that you can freeze almost anything – even some packaged foods with an expiration date? Butter, meats, cookies, cheesecakes, applesauce, and nuts can all be frozen! This great guide to freezing from “Love Food, Hate Waste” showcases all the different foods you can freeze and how to best use this simple preservation method.
How Long is Frozen Food Safe to Eat?
Frozen food can maintain its quality for several months. The shelf life of frozen foods is affected by several different factors, including appropriate storage, whether the food was prepared properly, and freezer temperatures. This table lists the approximate storage times for different categories of foods.
What Foods Shouldn’t I Freeze?
Although many foods can be frozen, there are some you shouldn’t freeze, including:
- Some dairy products like heavy/whipping cream, sour cream, and cottage cheese. These will separate when frozen and no longer be ideal for serving alone. However, if you plan on using these in baked goods or sauces, you can freeze them!
- Eggs in the shell or intact yolks. There are, however, ways to freeze eggs for later cooking, including freezing beaten whole eggs or yolks in ice cube trays.
- Lettuces and non-starchy greens. The freezing process will damage the cell structure of these vegetables, so if you plan on using them in salads, freezing may not be a good option.
How to Get Started
With a couple of supplies you most likely already have on hand, the food you’d like to preserve – and your freezer, of course – you can start preserving food like a pro!
Supplies you’ll need:
- Freezer-friendly food
- Air-tight containers for freezing, such as freezer-safe jars, zippered plastic bags, or containers
- Blanching or steaming basket (if freezing vegetables)
- Permanent marker or sticker to label storage containers
- Remember that fruits will undergo a texture change when they are frozen; however, frozen fruit is great for baking or adding to smoothies!
- While freezing fruits is a simple, straightforward process, vegetables must be blanched before freezing. Blanching, or “scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short of time” is important for stopping the enzyme processes that accelerate ripening, brightening colors, and cleaning the vegetable’s surface.
- Label your bags or containers ahead of time with the name of the food, the number of servings or amount, and the date they were frozen.
- Store them in an efficient way, placing foods you will reach for more regularly in an easily accessible location in your freezer.
- Keep a list of all the food you’ve frozen on the fridge or another convenient location in your kitchen. This freezer inventory printable will help you remember what you’ve frozen and how long you have left to cook or eat it.
- Wait until all the food is completely frozen before packing the freezer containers more closely together. Placing them too close together before the food is completely frozen can impact how long it takes to freeze and can affect freezer temperature.
If you’re interested in trying some more advanced methods of food preservation, check with your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office for information on resource and class schedules.
If you’d like to learn even more about freezing as a food preservation method and find answers to any questions about freezing, check out the additional resources linked below.
- University of Minnesota Extension. Preserving and Preparing: Freezing.
- PennState Extension. Let’s Preserve: Freezing Vegetables.
- Good Housekeeping. Guide to Freezing Food.
- The National Center for Home Food Preservation. How Do I Freeze…
- The Kitchn. Freezer-friendly Kitchen – A Collection of Freezer-friendly Recipes and How-Tos.
- Taste of Home. 19 Foods You Didn’t Know You Could Freeze.