Frozen Food Storage: Keeping It Safe and Tasty
Is it time to clean out your freezer?
By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
Got freezer space? We tend to keep all sorts of things in our freezers year after year. It's time to go through that freezer and dump everything you aren't going to eat in the next six months ... like that trout you caught three years ago, or the loaf of bread you bought at the two for one sale last year (the one that now has ice crystals all over it).
Get beyond the newly packed items in the front of your freezer and there will undoubtedly be some surprises. It might not be pretty! In my case, I found a couple of apparently melted and refrozen syrupy juice bars and an opened bag of frozen peas that had spilled out long ago.
We need all the freezer space we can get because many of us are at the brink of freezer overflow on any day of the week. We've got ice packs locked and loaded for the occasional sports injury; frozen vegetables and fruits for when fresh is absent or unavailable; frozen entrees for when dinner or lunch has to "make itself"; and frozen desserts and appetizers for when your kids' (or your) friends come around unexpectedly.
So what should you throw out? While the FDA notes that freezing can keep food safe almost indefinitely, that doesn't mean it will still have a good taste and texture. Basically, anything that is no longer identifiable -- as well as anything that makes you or your kids go "ew!" or "that's gross" -- needs to go.
The Golden Rules of Freezing Meals
To prevent those unwelcome discoveries in the back of your freezer, it helps to know how to freeze foods wisely in the first place. Keep in mind that when you freeze foods, you want to accomplish five things:
The key to accomplishing these goals lies in the proper wrapping and storing of your meals. Here are the golden rules for doing so:
How Long Can You Keep Frozen Foods?
And how long can you keep something frozen before it gets too icky to use? Check the use-by date for foods that were purchased frozen. For other commonly frozen foods, here is the FDA's recommended timetable for optimum quality:
For any food not listed, defrost it and check its quality. First, smell it. Anything that smells "off" should be thrown out, says the FDA. If it doesn't look as good as it used to but seems otherwise OK, you can try using it in soups or stews. (If it's got freezer burn, just cut off the "burned" spots.) For raw foods, cook them, and if you like the taste and texture, use them.
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