Freezing isn’t forever: a guide to keeping food at its best

Posted by Ella Buchan on 23 November 2016

Your freezer could be one of your biggest weapons when battling against household food waste - with a few simple rules.

Many of us periodically chuck out chicken breasts or containers filled with that delicious butternut squash soup, simply because they’ve been left forgotten at the back of the freezer and now resemble something that would sink the Titanic.

Technically food can keep indefinitely in the freezer so long as it remains at –18C and no air gets into the packaging. But the flavour and texture can often be impaired after months on ice, thanks to ‘freezer burn’, where water gets sapped out of food, leaving dry, unappetising patches.

These patches can be trimmed off before cooking, while fruit, vegetables and sauces, no longer at optimum flavour, can be revived by mixing with fresh produce or slow-cooking with herbs and spices.

As a general rule, defrost food overnight in the fridge, use within 24 hours of thawing and cook until piping hot.

Here’s our best-practice guide to storing food in the freezer for optimum flavour and taste.

Poultry and meat

As a general rule, try to use up frozen meat within six months. Defrost overnight in the fridge, cook within 24 hours and make sure it’s piping hot throughout before serving.

Leftover cooked meat can also be frozen - use within three months for the best taste. Thaw overnight in the fridge to use in stir fries and curries.

Whole chickens and turkeys should freeze well for up to a year, but it’s best to use portioned poultry within nine months.

Top tips:

Trim excess fat from meat before freezing, to reduce the risk of rancidity, and remove as much air as possible from the packaging.

Strip chicken breasts and freeze on a baking sheet before packing in bags. They can be added to stir fries and cooked from frozen.

Frozen meat
Shutterstock via: Photosiber

Fish and seafood

Lean fish like cod and sole can be frozen for up to six months, while oily fish such as tuna and salmon should only be kept for up to three. Cooked fish can also be stored in the freezer for two months and shellfish for three.

Top tips:

Wrap fish portions or fillets tightly in plastic wrap or place in zippered bags, squeezing out as much air as possible.

When freezing a whole fish, dip in saltwater and place on a pre-frozen baking tray. Once the saltwater has frozen on the outside, repeat the process before wrapping the fish in paper and securing with tape.

Frozen fish
Shutterstock via: Jannoon028

Vegetables

Apart from salad leaves and cucumber, which will go limp and soggy in the freezer, most vegetables freeze well - saving them from the bin and helping you to keep well stocked up.

Top tips:

Tomatoes get mushy when defrosted. Purée before freezing or drop whole frozen tomatoes straight into sauces.

Par-boiled potatoes can be frozen on a baking tray. Once they are solid, keep in a plastic bag. This keeps them from sticking together so you can just defrost what you need. Thaw overnight to roast or bake the next day.

You can also make a batch of mashed potato and freeze in portions.

Frozen vegetables
Shutterstock via: BravissimoS

Fruit

Citrus fruit is best used within three months of freezing, while other fruit can be kept for between nine months and a year.

Top tips:

Blanch apple slices in boiling water before freezing. Freeze on a baking sheet in a single layer, then pack in airtight bags or plastic tubs. The frozen slices can be used in apple cakes, tarts or sauce.

Peel ripe bananas before freezing whole, and whizz straight into smoothies (no need for ice cubes) or into an instant, healthy ice cream.

Store lemon and lime wedges in the freezer to add to hot or cold drinks. Or keep juice in ice-cube trays and freeze the skins separately. They are much easier to grate from frozen.

Freeze soft fruit in airtight bags ready to be blitzed up into smoothies.

Frozen berries
Shutterstock via: Shebeko

Cheese, eggs and dairy

Butter can be kept for up to nine months in the freezer, while hard and soft cheeses should keep their flavour for around six months. Soft cheeses can have a strange texture once defrosted, so are best used only in cooking.

Eggs can only be frozen raw with their shells removed, and are best used within a month. Making meringues? Freeze the separated yolks in an airtight plastic container - perfect for the next time you’re making custard or need some for baking.

Top tips:

Grate parmesan and freeze in an airtight container, ready to use as needed. And don’t throw away those rinds - save them up in the freezer and, when you have a handful, use to make broth or simply drop into sauces, soups and stews to thicken and infuse with a rich, nutty flavour.

Because it isn’t pressed in the same way as hard cheeses, stilton can be frozen whole - ready to use in stilton and celery soup or stirred into a delicious sauce for steak.

Bought too much milk or going away? Freeze what you have left so you’ll always have some on hand. Milk with a higher fat content is more likely to curdle and separate in the freezer, as is yogurt. Just give it a good shake or stir after defrosting.

Cheese
Shutterstock via: Sea Wave

Leftover meals

Freezing leftovers has double benefits - you rescue uneaten food from the bin and save yourself cooking supper another night. Bonus.

It’s best to use soups, stews and sauces within three months of freezing so they retain their flavour.

Top tips:

Freeze sauces separately if possible, as they tend to freeze better than pasta and grains. Sauces may thicken in the freezer, so add any extra water after thawing.

Soup
Shutterstock via: Anna_Pustynnikova

Bread and cakes

For the best taste and texture, try to use bread and rolls within three months of freezing. If they do look a little dry or have suffered freezer burn, don’t throw them in the bin - whizz into breadcrumbs.

Un-iced cakes can be stored in the freezer for up to three months.

Top tips:

Bang your sliced loaf on the kitchen counter - this will make it easier to separate the slices after freezing.

Replace paper or thin-film bread wrappers with sealable plastic bags or freezer wrap.

Freeze breadcrumbs in an airtight plastic tub so you’ll always have them on hand for baking, to top mac ‘n’ cheese and add texture to sauces.

Bread
Shutterstock via: Bluskystudio

Tips from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) at www.lovefoodhatewaste.com

Like this? Then try these: 

8 surprisingly freezable foods

The best dance routine since sliced bread

How to store and use up herbs