My initiative on writing about freezer meals did not come because I was looking to start a blog on food. I just had a real problem to fix. Perhaps this sounds familiar for some of you out there, especially to new moms. I wanted (and needed!) cooked, healthy meals for me and my family and the daily planning and preparing for this, plus the baby time and household chores left me with little to no time to invest in anything, let alone my freelancing career.
So I was super stuck and I wanted a solution. Pinterest gave me the first idea. It might seem obvious, but I truly never thought about it. Maybe because no one around me actually did this type of meal planning and food freezing, so thank God for Pinterest and the great creative women community there! Now, the principle is quite simple. Cook something and save part of it for later. Or just intentionally make a bunch of extra food and save it for future meals. You can read more about it here.
Below you will find more information on proper freezing and it is super important to know these because storing food correctly not only preserves taste, texture and nutrients but most importantly, it reduces the chances of foodborne illness for you and your family.
Truth be told, there is no exact way of knowing how long a food will maintain its quality and also be safe to eat, but there are indications to follow which will prevent spoilage and keep you safe. You might also want to read a bit more about “best before” and “use by” food labeling.
First of all, to understand how to store food and why, I’ve looked a bit into the main reasons that can cause food to go bad.
These are very small living things, invisible to the eye, that come in 3 kinds. Good and useful ones, that help make food, penicillin or help with digestion. Secondly, spoilage microorganisms, like mold and yeast, that are not usually making people sick but destroy the aspect of food and make it smell horrible. Eww. And the pathogenic microorganisms, which are the dangerous ones that can cause foodborne illness and even death. These include bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium botulinum, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Bacillus cereus, Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter, Versinia enterocolitica and Entero-pathogenic Escherichia coli. Here is a chart with more information on these bacteria, such as symptoms, causes and temperature sensitivity.
The microorganism mentioned above grow rapidly at room temperature, so in order to slow their growth, foods should be stored at lower temperatures. Microorganisms thrive on temperatures between 40 F°(5 °C) to 140 F° (60 °C), so be sure to always keep perishable foods in these temperatures for less than 2 hours and refrigerate them below 40 F°(5 °C). Examples of perishable foods include meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and all cooked leftovers.
They are naturally present in food and are super important for digestion. They also contribute to the ripening process and they change the color, texture and taste of fruit and vegetables.
Oxidation not only changes the color and texture but also the nutrient values in food, which is why it is super important to keep the air out as much as possible before packaging or freezing food.
Exposure to light may contribute to the loss of vitamins in the products and this is why food is saved better in dark places.
Insects, parasites and other creatures
They will feed on your food and damage it, so make sure to check your stored food regularly to avoid them at all cost.
- Simple refrigeration does not stop microorganisms from growing, which is why freezing is the best way to store your food.
- Although below 0 F° (-18°C) is ok, the ideal freezer temperature is -10 F° (-23°C) to -22 F° (-30°C). What happens is that lower temperatures slow down reactions and the spread of microorganisms. Experts have found that when stored at between -22°F and 0°F, the reaction rate for fruit and vegetables is up to three times slower.
- If your freezer does not have a built-in thermometer you can simply check the ice-cream you store in it. If it is not super hard, your freezer is too warm and you should check it out immediately by a professional.
- Freezer burn occurs if food is not properly packaged and air gets on the surface of the food, or when food is stored while still too hot. You can easily tell when it happened by noticing white spots on the food. Freezer burned food is still safe to eat, however, it will taste very bland and will be very hard. So make sure you wrap the food really well and you refrigerate warm foods before placing them in the freezer.
- Do not leave cooked, perishable food at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Ideally refrigerate it immediately and freeze it when it is cool. Perishable foods include meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, tofu, dairy products, pasta, cooked rice, cooked vegetables, fresh, peeled and/or cut fruits and vegetables. These are foods that also provide ideal conditions for microorganisms to grow.
- Speed up the freezing and thawing process by placing foods in a thin, flattened shape when you place them in freezer bags. A rounded shape takes longer to thaw through to the middle. Flatter packages also will stack better in your freezer.
- Keep meat and poultry in its original package until just before using. If you are freezing meat and poultry in its original package for longer than 2 months, overwrap these packages with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper; or place the package inside a plastic bag.
- Label everything to avoid unpleasant surprises. A permanent marking pen or freezer tape is the easiest to use.
- It’s best to plan ahead for a slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator, for about 24 to 48 hours, depending on the size of the package. Never ever thaw perishable foods at room temperature. If perishable foods are left at room temperature too long, bacteria may grow and produce heat-resistant toxins.
- If food is thawed in the microwave, finish reheating it right away or cook immediately to kill any bacteria that may have developed and to prevent further bacterial growth.
- Heat – resistant bacteria is real! So for safe cooking, all hazardous foods, such as cooked meats, rice, beans and fish should be reheated at least at 180 degrees F° (82° C), maintaining the temperature for a minimum of 30 seconds.
- Remember that the most dangerous temperatures for food storage are between 40 F°(5 °C) to 140 F° (60 °C).
- Also, frozen foods will not last forever. You can check out the FDA chart here and below that contains the maximum freezer storage time for some of the most frequently frozen products.
* This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclaimer for more info.