/ 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?

Comments

Frozen food will not become dangerous if kept longer than recommended, but some foods will spoil. Fat can oxidise and become rancid, and this applies especially to pork. Some vegetables need to be blanched to destroy enzymes if they are going to be kept more than a few weeks. Even milk spoils if kept frozen more than a short period.

Frozen food producers blast-freeze foods, which helps avoid ice crystals that can make ice cream gritty and soft fruit mushy with home freezing. Again, this affects quality rather than safety.
Contrary to popular belief, a freezer is a dry environment and moisture can be lost, affecting the texture. This is seen as ‘freezer burn’ of meat, etc.

With regard to myths, bacteria and other microorganisms (microbes) will not grow at freezer temperatures (-18°C or below) but they are not killed. In fact, freezing is one way of storing live bacteria used in laboratories.

I work in a lab and have used bacteria for our experiments. To freeze bacteria you need to add glycerol or DMSO to slow the freezing process of bacteria. Once I forgot to add it and I couldn’t make them to grow again. I do think that freezing in normal conditions kills 99% of EColi.

Uncooked rice sold in bags from 1-20 kilos not including the highly-processed
variety that I never use, can be kept almost indefinitely in a cool dry place,
once cooked and cooled, they can certainly be stored in the freezer for a
very considerable length of time like other foods.

From personal experience gained as to any adverse effect of enzymes of certain
fruit and veg so stored, not all of them need be blanched, once stored UNblanched
perfumed fresh pandan or screwpine leaves (juice extracted for use in making desserts,
cakes, ice cream and other savoury dishes that BTW HB seemed to have a problem
with such extraction for his use) for in excess of 18 months and there was NO
diminution/degradation of flavour on use thereafter AND indeed as to squid tubes
and vacuum-packed pork spare ribs, as further examples.

Provided proper temperatures are constantly maintained, foods of various
kinds can be safely stored in the domestic freezer for far longer than officially
recommended times.

The need for blanching is often over-stated in advice on home freezing. It is only important for some vegetables stored for a long time.

Janet says:
27 April 2012

What exactly are you eating? Its not in my English vocabulary, or cookbook!

I have always stored most raw food except fruit in freezers almost indefinitely (years) without any noticeable deterioration. Never been ill eating it either. I rarely re-freeze cooked food. Have never bothered to note dates on food I buy – except that I check I buy the latest on the shelf. But I do eat the longest in the freezer first – so I rotate it. But many items are rarely eaten unless I fancy it. Long experience has shown there now seems to be an obsession about ‘freshness without cause. I remember how rotten some of the food I ate was during the war when we had no chilled facility – also without ill effects. I tend not to eat food with mould on it – except cheese..

A myth I often come across is that you can’t freeze milk. You might not be able to freeze it for too long, but I freeze it and give it a shake once it’s defrosted – perfectly fine and fresh.

I also freeze sliced bread and pop the frozen slices in my toaster – fresh toast weeks after you originally bought the loaf. Good for people living alone who wouldn’t normally get through a full loaf.

Gretal says:
27 April 2012

I totally agree about bread, I rarely eat it & never “fresh”! Jess, might want to consider saving herself a bit of valuable time in the mornings too… If I ever need to make a sandwich, I just butter the bread frozen – much easier to butter as the bread doesn’t tear & if required you can also use less butter as it spreads more thinly on the frozen bread. Once buttered, add your filling as normal, wrap tightly in cling film & by the time you’re ready to eat it at lunchtime it’s defrosted & nice & moist & fresh!

I never keep bread in the fridge – it just dries it out.

Interesting. How long do you keep the milk frozen for? I also freeze sliced bread for toasts but you can note the difference with the fresh slices. So I do it as last resort (i.e. forgot to buy more bread)

Jess, can I ask why you recommend not storing pineapples in the fridge? Bananas, I can understand – they go black and mushy – but I find pineapples go off much more slowly if they’re in the fridge…

GillyGloucs says:
25 April 2012

It’s a good question and we’ll try and track down an answer for you!
Gill from WRAP

Fruit generally ripens and develops better flavour when kept at room temperature.

It’s well known that bananas go black if they are refrigerated but I don’t believe that anything like this happens with pineapples.

Conrad Knowles says:
27 April 2012

I’ve had no problems keeping bananas in the fridge for weeks!!

Margaret Barnes says:
27 April 2012

I always store bananas in the fridge – and they don’t go black or mushy. I buy no more than 5 at a time, and buy them slightly under-ripe. I cut very big bananas in half, and pop the unused half back in fridge. The end seals itself, and I can use the second half next day. I find leaving bananas out in the kitchen, they ripen far too fast. If a banana is slightly too unripe I bring it out of fridge and leave overnight in kitchen. Perfect next day.
I also store pineapples in the fridge, once I’v cut into them. I seal the cut end with fresh lemon juice, and continue to cut slices from the pineapple then reseal with lemon juice until it’s used up.

Curlie says:
27 April 2012

bananas go black…eventually but they are still edible…not mushy.

I second Patrick on the bread! When I remember I’ll always freeze bread as I usually only eat it as toast – toasts just the same, tastes just the same, and lasts much longer!

I’ve always been told that it’s more efficient to keep your freezer full of food. Not sure if this is true or not, but it’s wisdom passed on from my Mum so I stick to it!

Thanks Jess, very handy to know – I won’t feel too guilty if I fail to keep my freezer stocked!

The way I heard it was that it was the bulk of frozen food that contributes to keeping the temperature stable. Air in itself is difficult to keep at a constant temperature, so an empty freezer has to work harder, and a freezer full of solidly frozen food requires less effort to maintain. Also, something added into a full freezer should logically freeze quicker because there is more bulk to absorb the heat from the new object.

I third Patrick and Nikki on the bread- my Mum has frozen bread for as long as I can remember, and it is a (useful) habit that I have carried through into adulthood in my own freezer. I have seen some people keep bread in the fridge- this baffles me as it tends to make the bread soggy and taste horrible in my opinion.

Patrick, I understand it that you can freeze Skimmed (red) and semi-skimmed (green) milk but not full fat. I have no idea why, and I am sure it won’t kill you if you did, but I also freeze milk.

Thanks to my Mum’s upbringing, I am a food freezer- sausages, chicken and other meats, vegetables, cooked meals (chillis and curries etc), bread and milk. I think it is a GREAT way to make food last longer and to reduce waste, as well as when it is the end of the month and you have no money left, so you turn to your freezer to find a nice icy morsel to keep you going!

afrog says:
27 April 2012

Milk – mothers who express their milk at some point in their nursing can and do freeze it to give their babies at a later date, the maternities even recommend doing it, so why not cow’s milk whatever the fat content?

Since my grandpa is a scientist and researches the silent flight of owls to support research into making planes quieter, my grandpa used to have an… owl in his freezer. Fact.

I think there must be a vulture in ours – not much left at the end of the month!

Bea says:
25 April 2012

You can freeze bananas. If I’ve got bananas that are getting a bit too ripe, I peel them, wrap each one individually in cling film then stick them all in one freezer bag. They taste lovely when partially thawed – like banana ice cream.

Rosie says:
27 April 2012

Slice bananas thickly, freeze, then dip in melted chocolate – fantastic treat for small people!!

afrog says:
27 April 2012

Freeze over ripe bananas and when you have enough, defrost, drain and use in a banana bread as if they were fresh.

“Brits throw away 7.2 billion tonnes of food and drink a year … ” (sic)

On the basis of your evidence, I don’t think freezing all that leftover food is going to be the answer. My household has one of the largest domestic Bosch freezers on the market, but even we would struggle to fit a tonne of leftovers in there every day, let alone eat it later!

And Patrick’s scaring us with having to eat bugs because of a shortage of meat. Either Brits need to buy less food … or Which? needs to check its sums.

Thanks Jess … although I am secretly disappointed. I was hoping food at £1.67 at tonne would be a much cheaper way to feed the dogs than buying them dried kibble!

What’s happening….I submitted my further thoughts
and was told it was marked as spam… do enlighten.

It was a comment in response to Jess asking:

“Has anyone defrosted anything only to find it completely unpalatable….?”

Yes it happens from time to time. i have given up putting spam in the freezer.

Perfectly innocuous wording like the rest…why was it singled out for deletion?

Is it retrievable?

Reminds me of a Council planning department that rejected an entire email ‘cos
it contained the word ‘erection’ from a firm of architects. Shame on them!

Hello Argonaut, I’d like to say we were keeping it safe in cold storage, but it’s actually not available.

We’ve recently installed a new spam filter due to reader feedback following an influx of spam messages getting through. It is slightly tougher than the old one, and looks at how comments are written, as well as their content. However, it shouldn’t block real comments likes yours outright – instead it should present you with a code to fill out.

If you find this is happening a lot please email us using our contact us form (as requested on the page you would have seen) explaining the problem https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us/ We keep a record of them and it will help us teach the new spam filter. You can read more about our spam filter here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/frequently-asked-questions/ Thanks, Patrick

John

Believe the fresh pineapple has strong enzymes, a fruit
I wd blanch before storing in freezer for (much) later use rather
than unblanched stored at up to 5 degrees C in fridge compartment
unless consumed within 2 days w/out loss of flavour.

Alternatively, I wd juice it .

Thanks Argonaut – good tips.
John

I read in a cookery book long ago (no, not by Delia but maybe Madhu Jefferies) I picked up
at a car boot sale that insists curries taste better defrosted and heated up having been in the
freezer for some length of time. A consolidation and maturation of flavours?

On this reckoning, so shd casseroles and stews too and BTW borne out by personal
experiences but then I’m biased.

BTW Delia likes Indian foods too and wrote such recipes,
inter alia, in her cookery books.

I can definitely back this one up. Curries always taste better the next day anyway, but freezing them is a good way to do it too.

I had a freezer failure a 2 weeks ago (due to a failed power lead, not noticed for 2 days) and had over a week worth of meat thawed out. I spent the next day cooking up curries and stews, and even a pie filling, froze it all up in meal sized lots and have been pulling it out as I needed it. The butter chicken was absolutely awesome!!

Beware of freezing curries made with whole spices. Many years ago my mother made chicken khorma for the freezer – it came out more like vindaloo.

I tend to use the freezer to stock up on items when they are on special offer and save money that way, then use it as a back stop so we don’t need to buy more fresh food than we can reasonably eat. For instance, Waitrose chilled pizzas are currently on offer at 2 for £5, rather than £4 each, but they go straight in the freezer and will only come out when the fridge is empty.

I buy a few kg of butter when on a really good offer and freeze that too. It keeps for up to a year and I then have everything I need with store cupboard ingredients and some eggs to make a proper cake, rather than buying one in a packet. (A block of frozen butter microwaved until it just starts to melt is perfect for creaming with sugar.)

We also make our own bread in batches and freeze that, so bread rarely gets wasted.

I don’t get too excited environmentally about the odd vegetable going off, as long as it ends up in the compost heap. The farmer has already grown it, and it has been shipped to the supermarket. If someone doesn’t buy it, it will be going to waste anyway. Putting it in the freezer for the following week means that more electricity and some of next week’s crops will remain unsold instead. It can be a vicious circle as the supply chain isn’t that flexible; supermarkets will have pre-ordered from their growers weeks in advance.

I think as humans we could do far more for the environment by simply eating less food. Whether it ends up in landfill or the sewerage farm makes little difference to the energy consumed in growing, distribution and waste management.

And as we will all be slimmer and lighter, we will save even more energy when we drive to the supermarket to pick up next week’s groceries – maybe having enough room for a full-sized spare tyre to replace the one we’ve lost!

Em – I like your reasoning [fourth para]. I haven’t seen it put like that before and it makes a lot of sense.

NikkiB says:
27 April 2012

The only thing I’m a bit wary of freezing is fish and seafood when the label states ‘not suitable for hime freezing’. I did once freeze some fresh mackerel when it said this on the label but it tatted alright when I defrosted & ate it a few weeks later. However, smoked salmon slices, which are okay to freeze, went off after a few weeks – they changed colour and smelled awful!

Sue says:
27 April 2012

I make bread in my breadmaker and then cut it in half and freeze the halves.
I cook a kilo of brown rice in my rice cooker, open freeze it and then bash it with a rolling pin and bag it for ‘freeflow’ frozen rice.
Try to double up on quantities and freeze the remainder for future ready meals.
I have frozen left over cooked pasta and it is perfectly OK.
Often freeze fruit gluts from the garden for later jam making.
I stew home grown tomatoes and store them in 400g portions.
I freeze chopped left over herbs. Coriander, parsley and dill most often.
I DONT freeze leafy vegetables apart from spinach. They never seem to be as good.
Any other kinds of veggies apart from legumes I roast in the oven and then freeze. Works well for courgettes, peppers, onions, aubergines, mushrooms, parsnips, potatoes etc. Oh… And I often par-boil potatoes and freeze them for saute or roast potatoes at a later date…

This is all I can think of off the top of my head… I did cook up a huge batch of food for my dog and froze that once. When I put it down for him he looked at me as if to say ‘you dont really expect me to eat that do you?,

So even Though I believe I make very good use of my freezer, when I waste food, I can do it on a much grander scale!

I’m usually very careful not to waste food but still (quite often) find a liquefied cucumber still in its polythene skin in the bottom of an overstuffed salad bin in the fridge. It’s just a fact of a busy life!

Dave Buckingham says:
27 April 2012

Re your item on freezing milk. I always have a 4 pinta in the freezer just in case , as we get through at least one of these a day. Friends have told me that milk cant and shouldn’t be frozen but I point out that when we were kids and the milkman left glass bottles of milk on the doorstep in hard winters, it was always frozen when we brought it in, AND it had expanded and a column of frozen milk stood up, sometimes a coule of inches from the bottle with the top on it. The milk was always fine. We did not waste any thing then, not like todays society, spoilt by the H&S brigade.

Sue says:
27 April 2012

We never throw food out, leftovers are either refrigerated and used the next day or frozen for later. We quite often end up with extra of something like chilli and rice, and I just put it in tupperwares and freeze it. I’ve never had a problem with that. I also take no notice of how long things have been frozen – I once thawed and used some 2-year-old rhubarb and although it was a bit stringy when I tried to slice it, it went in a crumble and tasted perfect. I think we risk becoming paranoid about food dates/storage etc because no-one knows what to do any more if it hasn’t got a supermarket label on. Use your eyes, nose and tastebuds!