Many of us consider a freezer as an essential item to store and preserve food. It’s hard to imagine life without this handy appliance and with increasing awareness of the importance of wasting less food and using up what we have, the freezer has never been more popular.
Despite its popularity, most people are not specialists on the rules for freezing food. However, we’ll often freeze left-overs, food close to its use-by date or excess food when we’ve made too much.
Without some basic rules, you could find yourself digging out something questionable from the bottom of your freezer. This could make it extremely difficult to know exactly what it is and whether you should eat it or not. Asking the question ‘how long can I freeze this for’ will help improve your freezer use and get the most out of the food you keep.
Basic freezer rules
Here are a few basic rules of thumb to remember when using your freezer:
· Always ensure that your freezer is set to –18°C or below
· Always put frozen food into the freezer as soon as possible
· Always store raw and ready-to-eat food separately
· Always wrap food or store it in a suitable container
· Always label and date food
· Always vacuum pack food as this reduces the risk of it spoiling, and
· Never overfill your freezer. However, never underfill it either. A freezer has to work harder to cool empty space
Can I freeze this food?
Almost every kind of food can be frozen, with only a few exceptions; foods with a high water content, like cucumber or lettuce, and eggs still in their shell, regardless of whether they’re raw or cooked, for example.
Freezing food will extend its shelf life without losing much quality and provides convenience and results in less waste. However it’s not advisable to keep food in your freezer for years and years, as the quality will deteriorate over this length of time.
Here are some guidelines for how long certain kinds of food can be stored in a freezer. (Providing your freezer is set to the correct temperature and food has been stored correctly!)
How long can I freeze these foods for?
Fruit: You can freeze fruit for up to 6 months, whether it is berries, bananas or anything in between. If you have too many summer fruits and can’t eat them before they spoil, then the freezer is the ideal place for them. Bananas can be peeled and wrapped, then placed in the freezer, either whole or sliced. They can then be used up in smoothies or used in baking. Pineapples, peaches, plums and honeydew melon can all be frozen too.
Vegetables: You can freeze vegetables for up to a year. Runner beans, brussels sprouts, corn, cauliflower, broccoli and many more. Before freezing vegetables it’s best to blanch them as this gets rid of any dirt and bacteria, as well as keeping them from going soggy when you defrost them.
Meat and Fish: You can freeze raw or cooked meat and it’s best to use it within 3-6 months to ensure the taste is not impaired. With meat, it depends on what it is as to how long it should be kept. For example, minced meat shouldn’t be kept in the freezer for longer than 3 months and raw cuts of meat shouldn’t be kept for longer than 4 months. White fish such as cod, can be frozen for up to 8 months and oily fish can be frozen for only 4 months.
Carbohydrates: You can freeze bread for up to 3 months. Cooked pasta can be frozen for up to 2 months and rice for up to 1 month. You can toss the pasta in olive oil before freezing it to prevent it from sticking together. Rice should be cooled down and frozen within an hour of cooking to ensure that bacteria doesn’t develop.
Dairy: Butter, cheese, eggs and milk can all be frozen. Cheese and milk can be frozen for up to 6 months and butter up to 4 months and yoghurt for 2 months. Frozen yoghurt is likely to split once defrosted and it is unlikely to be as tasty as when it was first bought. However you can freeze yoghurt in lolly moulds with berries as a tasty treat straight from the freezer to avoid this. If you are going on holiday and have leftover milk, you can fill an ice cube tray with it, that way you can use the milk cubes for that first cup of tea when you return!
Prepared Food: If you make too much food, you can always freeze the leftovers, whether it’s soup, spaghetti bolognaise or casserole. You can even use up that leftover roasted meat by making a few sandwiches for the freezer. It’s best to use up most of these food items within 1 - 2 months to ensure they’re still full of flavour!
Desserts: Most desserts can be frozen for up to 3 months. This includes cheesecakes, fruit pies and even cakes and cookies. Excess cake batter and buttercream can also be frozen. Cooked cake can be frozen without the buttercream so it can be wrapped tightly to avoid air getting to it and assembled once defrosted.
Used in the right way freezing prevents waste, but if something appears to have deteriorated when you remove it from the freezer it may be best to avoid it. Freezer burn can occur when air gets to the food and affects its quality. By freezing food, you will soon determine what works well for you and what doesn’t. You can also check your freezer manual for recommendations on freezing different food types. However, having a system in place and knowing how long you can freeze things for will ensure you use your freezer to its full potential!