Bought Too Much Food? Freeze It!

April 24, 2020, 1:59 pm | Sarah Francis, Ruth Litchfield

Packing Chicken breast with gravy and butternut squash leftovers in single serving meal plastic containers for freezing by merrimonc/, Iowa – Not going through the bread as quickly as expected? Were 10 pounds of chicken breasts a bit too much for your family of three? As Iowans adjust to social distancing, they also are adjusting to the amount of food their family needs in a week. However, if you overbought food, don’t toss it. Freeze it, say nutrition and wellness state specialists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“Freezing is one of the most common ways we can preserve food at home. It’s fast and easy,” said specialist Sarah Francis. “Freezing, as a rule, has better quality and retains more of the nutritional value than canning.”

Added specialist Ruth Litchfield, “Remember though, how you package and store frozen foods will determine the quality when thawed.”

Francis and Litchfield offer the following tips for properly freezing food.

Foods to be frozen must be packaged in a way that protects them from the dry climate in the freezer and excludes as much air as possible. Food items that are improperly packaged are more likely to develop freezer burn — the grayish-brown discoloration that is caused by air reaching the food surface, which causes moisture to evaporate.

Good packing materials are moisture-vapor resistant; durable and leak proof; resistant to cracking and brittleness at low temperatures; resistant to oil, grease and water; able to protect foods from absorption of off flavors and odors; and easy to seal and label. Packaging that helps keep frozen foods safe from freezer burn includes canning or freezing glass jars, plastic freezing containers, heavyweight aluminum foil, plastic-coated freezer paper and freezer safe bags. The cartons that come with milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, margarine, and many other refrigerated foods are not moisture-vapor resistant enough for freezing and do not produce seals airtight enough for freezing.

When packaging foods to be frozen, package enough for one family meal and/or an individual serving. This will help lessen food waste. Remove as much air as possible from each package to reduce loss of quality. Foods containing water expand when frozen; therefore, frozen food containers must be expandable or sealed with sufficient headspace for expansion. As a rule allow one-half to one inch headspace for all frozen foods.

Be sure to label and date all your food packages. This will allow you to easily identify the food item from the freezer and to follow the first in, first out rule. Foods in the refrigerator freezer are good for three to six months and for up to one year in a deep freezer.

Remember these tips when freezing food:

  • Freeze foods at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
  • Freeze foods as soon as they are packed and sealed.
  • Do not overload your freezer with unfrozen food. Add only the amount that will freeze within 24 hours. Overloading the freezer will slow down how quickly the foods will freeze, which can lower the food quality.
  • Do not overfill your freezer. Leave a little space between packages so air can circulate freely.

Foods that freeze well include bread and baked goods; beef, pork, poultry and fish; casseroles; most fruits and vegetables; soups or chilis; and marinara sauce. Before freezing produce be sure to clean it well. Spend Smart Eat Smart has a video and handout describing how to clean fruits and vegetables. Most vegetables will also need to be blanched prior to freezing.

Freezing is not recommended for the following foods due to the effect on sensory qualities: leafy vegetables, raw vegetable salads, potatoes, cooked pasta or rice (frozen by itself), sour cream, cream or custard fillings, milk sauces, mayonnaise or salad dressing, or fried foods. These foods can become limp, soft, soggy, mealy, mushy, tough, rubbery or separated when thawed. It is not a food safety issue, rather a food quality issue. For a more complete list of foods that don’t freeze well visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation website.

To learn more about freezing fruits and vegetables download the free publication Freezing: Fruits and Vegetables. 

You can also view this short freezing lesson.


Photo credit: merrimonc/

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