/ Food & Drink

Freezing your food – separating the fact from fiction

Brits throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink a year – that’s £12bn down the drain. Much of this is completely unnecessary, especially if we made more use of our freezers. But what can and can’t you freeze?

Food waste is a problem: fact. According to research by Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the average household shells out £480 per year on groceries that end up in the bin, a figure that rises to £680 for a family with children.

When you consider that you’re spending hard-earned cash to populate landfill, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

And it’s not just the impact on our wallets that gives cause for concern. Every time we throw away a pint of milk, all of the natural resources used to get it from the farm to your fridge (feeding and watering cows, powering the dairy, transporting the milk to the supermarket) are all expended for nothing.

Saving money on food shopping

WRAP estimates that preventing food waste would have the same environmental benefits of removing one in five cars from our roads.

How, then, can we save ourselves money and do our bit for the environment? It all comes down to good planning, preparation and storage. Plan meals in advance and only buy – and cook – what you need:

  • Make a shopping list and stick to it.
  • Store fruit (except pineapple and bananas) in the fridge – it’ll last longer.
  • Don’t buy bagged lettuce if salad isn’t on the menu for the next few days.
  • Make sure your fridge is running at 5°C or colder.

And make more use of your freezer – storing food until you’re ready to eat it is, after all, what it’s there for. You can freeze fresh groceries right up until the use-by date, cook large meals and freeze individual portions, even freeze fruit and veg. Small measures for big gains: it’s a win-win situation, surely?

Freezing food myths

So, what foods can and can’t you store in your freezer? According to the United States Department of Agriculture, you can freeze pretty much anything except eggs and canned foods. And even these foods can be frozen if you remove the shell and can first.

But how long can you safely freeze food for? And what about all those things you ‘just know’ you can’t freeze? Surely you’re not supposed to freeze rice? And what about raspberries and strawberries that turn to mush? Or, perhaps you follow the school of thought that any unwelcome microbes or bacteria are killed once food reaches 0°C, so anything goes?

We’re looking into freezing habits here at Which? to separate the fact from the fiction so we can reveal how you can make the most out of your freezer. So, how much do you use your freezer? And what foods do you think you can and can’t freeze, and why?

Elmo says:
1 May 2012

I store my ground coffee in the freezer. It helps to keep its fresh-ground smell & flovour for a longer time.

Annie says:
1 May 2012

I find that frozen cheddar cheese whilst still tasting the same, tends to cumble easily therefore
is difficult to grate, (it breaks off into lumps – sometimes the lumps are okay for cooking) but no good
for sprinkling on top of cooked food. Any tips or is this just the result of the freezing process?

Grate the cheese before you freeze it and store in a plastic bag. You can sprinkle with a bit of cornflour to help stop it clumping and just take out what you need.

A pastry chef showed me how caterers make up a chocolate souffle mix, that can be placed in the freezer in ramekin dishes until required and cooked straight from frozen. It’s a great tip time saver for dinner parties, plus you can have chocolate souffle for dessert when you fancy one (if there’s any left!).

Sara Jayne Slocombe says:
1 May 2012

Lots of good suggestions so far.

We freeze lots of food. Problems arise with rice – usually it turns to mush, except in this one recipe: http://www.food.com/recipe/mexican-rice-117892 which has fabulous texture and taste after freezing and thawing. I’d be interested if Which could contact food scientists to narrow down what the problem with rice is, and why that recipe overcomes it. Pasta also gives me trouble, always turning mushy.

I batch cook to a degree, so I’ll cook up a whole kg of dried beans and freeze what isn’t used immediately; the texture’s fine. I prepare a batch of 8 or so spring rolls at once, and freeze what we don’t need that night; refrigerate overnight first on a wire rack (such as a grill pan) to let dry a bit, then wrap individually in cling film, and then it works a treat to pull out two or three when we want them – can even deep fry them from frozen.

Sauces (though I never try cream sauces, have heard that it doesn’t work) tend to freeze great. I’ll freeze citrus juice and zest in ice cube trays, works a treat. I make bacon bits and keep them in a bag in the freezer, handy for adding to jacket potatoes, etc, as desired. I use the cartons from juices and uht milk, once empty, to freeze food into – once frozen, remove from carton and place in plastic bags – so that the blocks then fit better in the freezer and make better use of the space. Most often I do this with stock I’ve made, but it’s also handy for future ready meals when I’ve made a double batch of some dish.

Smoked salmon doesn’t suffer when we freeze it, so I get a side from my fishmonger a couple of times a year and freeze it in small portions – works out much cheaper than buying the small packs individually, plus makes a lovely standby.

I tend not to freeze fresh fruits and vegetables, since I can usually buy as little as I want from my greengrocer (really hate the packs of things in the supermarket, really wonder at this incessant need to package fruits and vegetables up in the supermarket). An exception is wimberries, since they have such a short season: I popped those straight into the freezer two years ago, in plastic bags, and they’re still fine for pies. Will have to get some more this year, one way or another, as we only have enough left for one pie!

Can you restore my comments to response to Sara Jayne Slocombe’s
that were removed OR never got posted?

Typo: ‘in not ‘to’ re above’.

Wish yrs has an editing facility after clicking ‘Submit’
like they have elsewhere.

Hi Argonaut, I’m sorry, I’m not sure which comments you are are referring to. Thanks.

Patrick, there’s only one comment I made in response to Sarah Jane’s posted
1 May 2012 at 2:19 pm as to her problem with defrosted rice. Certainly
no potentially problematic word(s) I used.

A quick message flashed up that I did not get to read and then it was gone.

Had happened once before just days ago that I told you abt.

When I use half a jar of pasta sauce (say) I pop the jar (+ contents!) into the freezer so save on decanting. Freeze fresh whole ginger and grate from frozen. Freeze all jars of spices and herbs in a box and use as required, preferably whole. They keep very much longer. Whizz whole spices in a coffee grinder. Amazing aromas and extra flavour to cakes and curries.

Joe Story says:
5 May 2012

The problem with rice is not in the freezing but in its condition before it is frozen. If rice is overcooked or if it is left for some time in a warm condition it will become mushy when frozen and defrosted and there is also the danger of it becoming toxic (rice left in warm conditions can be a health and safety problem).I always cook rice before I need it and remove from the heat about a minute before it is cooked. I then plunge it in cold water immediatley to chill it. I drain it for a few minutes and then toss it in a little oil (about one level dessertspoon per person).This can then be frozen or stored in the fridge to be used on the same day. To reheat pour on boiling water, drain and then microwave for a couple of minutes (depending on quantity) until piping hot. The grains will be just firm and each one will be seperate.

Polly says:
5 May 2012

I frequently freeze portions of cooked rice (Basmati) and never have a problem when I defrost it; also biryani – a brilliant ‘convenience meal’.
When I have extra lemons (I never need the whole bag full!) I juice them and freeze the juice in a spare ice cube tray.
Coriander is also a good freezer standby. Just take out the biggest stalks, then put the herbs into a freezer bag, removing as much of the air as possible (I use a drinking straw). Once frozen, just crush the bag lightly and it is ready to add to soups, stews, curries etc.

watching the pennies says:
5 May 2012

I freeze most things, excess fruit and veg from garden, milk and butter, and when I shop at the end of the day and get the reduced items I check for the freezer sign and then pop them all in allowing me to get more bargains to last through the week. Also any food on offer I will do the same. Bread I freeze sliced and get out as I need it, it quickly defrosts, but allows the loaf to keep fresh.

Peter Hulse says:
5 June 2012

Some things are safe to freeze, but taste disgusting once thawed. Kidneys and brussels sprouts come to mind.

We’ve busted some of the myths posted here, featuring some of your comments! Join the latest freezing food debate: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/freezing-food-myths-busted-freezers-safety/

Ardbarron says:
12 August 2013

I freeze excess cream in ice cube trays, perfect for when you just need a little amount in sauces. I freeze peeled garlic too, VERY convenient.