If you should ever happen to find yourself, as one may, diligently reading the United States Department of Agriculture’s Freezing and Food Safety resource page, you will stumble across one curious sentence.
That sentence reads: “You can freeze almost any food.”
The mind reals. Any food? Does a whole cheesecake count? What about a Party Size! bag of Cool Ranch Doritos? A Boston-cream-filled donut? A Bloomin’ Onion? What about a turducken? Or would you have to remove the chicken from the duck from the turkey and then freeze each individually?
The USDA does go on to offer a warning, however: “Some exceptions are canned food or eggs in shells. However, once the food (such as a ham) is out of the can, you may freeze it.”
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So as long as your turkducken isn’t also stuffed into a can (for some reason) you’re good.
But, look, just because you can freeze “almost any food” doesn’t mean you should freeze “almost any food.”
As Semyon from Eastern Promises knows, freezer space is limited. And if you’re throwing whole cheesecakes, pillow-sized chip bags, cream-stuffed donuts, massive Outback Steakhouse “appetizers,” and poultry-on-poultry-on-poultry action in there, you aren’t going to have any room in the freezer for the stuff that’s actually any good for you.
This guide is for freezing the stuff that’s actually any good for you.
Okay, so I can freeze fresh and raw fruits and vegetables?
Yes. This falls under the USDA definition of “almost any food.” You’re in the clear.
Some people question if you have to blanch foods first before freezing them. (Blanching means quickly cooking produce in hot water until al dente and then shocking them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.) That’s up to you. But at least according to the USDA, there’s no reason that you have to take this extra step. The only cooking-related advice they offer is such:
“Freeze food as fast as possible to maintain its quality. Rapid freezing prevents undesirable large ice crystals from forming throughout the product because the molecules don’t have time to form into the characteristic six-sided snowflake. Slow freezing creates large, disruptive ice crystals.”
So if you are blanching your vegetables, you are, by nature, rapidly cooling them. (Nice work.)
But if you’re not blanching them, you can follow this advice, also from the USDA: “Ideally, a food 2-inches thick should freeze completely in about 2 hours. If your home freezer has a ‘quick-freeze’ shelf, use it. Never stack packages to be frozen. Instead, spread them out in one layer on various shelves, stacking them only after frozen solid.”
So I can freeze fresh asparagus, spinach, roasted vegetables, potatoes, and lettuce?
Everything except the lettuce. Any kind of leafy salad green looks limp and tastes, well, nasty, after it’s been frozen and then thawed. Heartier greens like kale and collards seem to do fine, though.
Also, don’t forget about broccoli, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, spinach, corn, carrots, onions, cauliflower, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and any other foods you’re likely to find in the freezer section of the grocery store.
I’m not going to get sick from this stuff, am I?
If you’re freezer temperature is set at 0°F, you’re in the clear.
More from the USDA: “Food stored constantly at 0°F will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage. Freezing keeps food safe by slowing the movement of molecules, causing microbes to enter a dormant stage.”
Yeah, about that “quality” thing. Is freezer burn a sign of food spoilage?
“Freezer burn does not make food unsafe, merely dry in spots,” according to the USDA. “It appears as grayish-brown leathery spots and is caused by air coming in contact with the surface of the food. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the food. Heavily freezer-burned foods may have to be discarded for quality reasons.”
So, no, freezer burn is not a sign of spoilage, but it still sucks.
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