/ 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?

Peter says:
27 April 2012

In response to the question about food not tasting too good after freezing, I have been disappointed with the results of freezing home grown runner beans, which go limp and lose texture and flavour even after blanching. Forty years ago my bank manager told me he had great success putting his runner beans in stone jars layered with salt. He believed they tasted even better! I might experiment with that method when I can get round to it. I guess big glass storage jars would do as well. The only other disappointment is cooked ham of foul; it dries out and one of the early comments above about the dehydrating effect of freezing now explians why.

Linus says:
27 April 2012

Sorry if this is answered elsewhere within the thread, but….
Should cooked food be allowed to cool before putting into the freezer? If so, should it be placed in the fridge first to bring the temperature down quicker?

I was a single parent of one child for many years and after mortgage was paid, had £10 pw for food for the 2 of us. Spent most of it on the reduced items in the supermarket and these were put straight in the freezer. By careful budgeting and putting left overs in the freezer, we were able to survive.
I still look out for bargins, my motto is always if you have something left over from a party/celebration – what can you do with it?. I get annoyed with work do’s as people are throwing perfectly good food away which could be frozen, made into soups etc.

Puzzled when I read the “Brits throw away a thousand gazillion tons of food” headline. Are you sure it’s me ? I mean, is that figure purely domestic? Does it exclude food and drink thrown out by commercial and institutional kitchens, shops and supermarkets, or food that is rejected or deteriorates along the supply chain ? Is it a figure Which? readers can genuinely impact through changes in their own behaviour? Or would even greater impact be achieved by improvements elsewhere at the same time as we are doing our little bits?

Susan says:
27 April 2012

I have an allotment, and freeze quite a bit of fruit and some vegetables. Fruit like rhubarb, blackberries, gooseberries, and red and black currants are easily frozen loose on baking trays (pick them over first) and then poured into freezer bags, like peas are. You can make jam or puddings with them when it suits you – even several years later. Cooking apples too marked to keep are frozen as cooked puree. Raspberries and strawberries, if you have a glut and don’t want to make jam, can be pureed with a little sugar, frozen in plastic cups, and used when you want a fruit sauce on a pudding – it’s delicious. Green tomatoes can be frozen whole, and used in vegetable curry. I agree that frozen beans lose their texture, and it’s best to think of them as a different vegetable – cook them from frozen in a frying pan with butter and a bit of garlic. They must be blanched for a minute before freezing, or they’ll lose their flavour – something to do with enzymes, I’m told. Drain them and open-freeze on trays, so you can use from the bag in the quantities you want. If you make your own marmalade, and don’t have time to do the cutting up and cooking all at once, you can freeze the cut-up peel with its juice and little bag of pips, and keep it till you have time to do the boiling. Seems to keep a very long time in the freezer – at least a year – with no loss of flavour.

Tricia says:
27 April 2012

Re Milk; I have always frozen milk – as a standby. After defrosting I whisk it with a mini milk frothier (it goes in through the top of the ‘bottle’) – 99p from Ikea and it’s fine.
Some years I’m inunndated with plums. After freezing them whole, not a nice taste, I found the best way was to stone and simmer till soft, cool and then freeze. They’re all ready for jam making then especially as I freeze 4lb at a time. I once made perfect jam with 6 year old plums done this way.
I freeze stock in containers and ice cube trays.
I chop parsley from the garden, pop it into the ice cube sections and add a little stock – all ready to add to parsley sauce. I also freeze the chopped parsley in a bag for decorating foods.
Fish doesn’t keep too long – use your nose to tell you if you’d like to eat it.
Left overs in little containers in the freezer – one year on defrosting the freezer I collected groups together and added them to hot stock and whizzed them with a hand blander. What I thought was a little box of chicken turned out to have been crab and made a delicious meat and crab soup! Soup of the day- everyday different!
Never any need to waste good food if you use your ingenuity.

gogsy27 says:
27 April 2012

Some great comments here! We use freezer for bread and rolls (especially special offers buy two for X price). Fruit from the garden is frozen for jam and I also stew garen fruits (apples, plums) for use in crumbles – pretty much ready to go out of the freezer.
Meat lasts for ages in air tight bags. Suck the air out of larger bags – perfectly hygienic – before tying them.
Frozen veg is great in pasta dishes – green beans, peas etc. Far cheaper than buying and wasting just put in as much as needed towards end of pasta cooking!
Soup is another fabulous item to freeze – make in large quantities and have for dinner parties etc.
All of the above learnt from my Mum – Home Economics teacher – they should never have done away with that subject and we would be better off today ……………… 😉

SaraJayne says:
27 April 2012

Better than sucking the air out, or pressing it out, is using water to push it out. When your sink is full of water, place the bagged food carefully into the water, keeping the open bit above the water. When the water line is very near the top, seal it. No need for a vacuum sealer!

If anyone puts up a video on YT, shall certainly watch it, the water method.

Miller says:
27 April 2012

I have found silicone muffin trays really helpful for freezing in portions. Many sizes available. The smaller the better as you can be more flexible about how many portions you defrost in one go. Good for flexible eating, kids’ teas and their unexpected friends turning up.
Frozen bread slices can be made into sandwiches whilst still frozen, they are defrosted by lunchtime, even if hard to cut in half when making them.
Pineapple – I cube it and then freeze it.

One thing I have disasters with is mashed potatoes. Some freeze well, some are revolting mushy watery lumps of tasteless starch. Anyone any ideas on what types are OK?
I have seen somewhere that adding an egg into the mash makes it freeze well.

One myth I’m keen to know is about freezing your own ice. I’ve found that when I freeze my own ice, the freezer tends to get frosted up quicker. My theory is the water evaporates a little – but that’s pseudo-science at best. Anyone know what the major causes of freezers frosting up are? Does freezing your own ice make an impact?

I suppose that’s possible … .

Making your own ice in open trays will provide a constant source of water vapour. Even frozen water continues to “evaporate” – although the technical term for changing straight from a solid to gas is sublimation. Or it might be caused by the increase in the number of times you open the door to get more ice, letting in moisture-laiden air from the room.

You could investigate these theories by making your ice in sealed ice cube bags, or by increasing your intake of G&Ts to see if the problem gets worse.

It’s not pseudo-science, Patrick, and Em’s explanation is correct. The rate of evaporation or sublimation is dependent on vapour pressure, which depends on temperature. Thus water will evaporate faster than ice sublimes. Making ice in a sealed container would avoid avoid the increased rate of frosting up of the freezer.

Sublimation of ice is the basis of freeze drying, which is used commercially, for example to make good instant coffee (possibly an oxymoron). The rate of sublimation is accelerated by placing the frozen coffee paste in a vacuum.

Yes Home Economics should still be part of the curriculum at Secondary level – but also younger children love cooking – I used to run after school clubs and the children just loved anything to do with food especially the boys !
Re the observations on bananas in the ‘fridge a company (no Names) has a banana bag which keeps bananas from going black – it appears to be made of bubble wrap with a nylon material covering it–so one could make a bag using bubble wrap from the supermarket (boxes which contain fruit have this -protecting them from damage) – this is a freebee which has lots of uses …..

fuzzbox says:
27 April 2012

Back in november 2007 I made a quantity of Italian Ragu, some was eaten immediately, the balance was frozen in a take away carton. We have this week defrosted this and consumed approx half. It was lovely, just as good as the original in 2007, and we hope to enjoy the balance over the weekend. I notice we have a further quantity of Ragu in the freezer from April 2007 which I expect we will enjoy shortly

Freddie says:
27 April 2012

I cut a slice of fresh pineapple every morning and I’ve found that Pineapples keep longer and fresher in the fridge as they ripen too quickly when left out. Depending how ripe they are when they are bought they can last for over 3 weeks. I just place cling film over the sliced end to keep it fresh.

When whole fresh British chickens are genuinely cheap as at HALF-PRICE
offer at no more than twice a year in the case of Waitrose
(but never ever at Sainsburys to my knowledge), I buy quite a few,
roast/poach them, let cool and divide up into future serving portions
as to both white and dark meats removing all the skin and bones (such terms
as to meat description are more commonly used in US) for longer-term storage
in the freezer. Had noticed on defrosting and eating whether hot or cold or
used a multitude of ways as in various dishes, flavour remains
very substantially intact if such meat a little tenderer (and no problem
with that of course).

Foods with delicate flavours like (premium) smoked salmon I wd never freeze AND
as to various fruit and veg I cd name unless resultant texture is not at
all important.

Indian korma dishes are generally mild using very little or no hot chillied or
paprika stuff, surprised therefore to learn they turn ‘vindaloo’ on
freezing and defrosting for consumption thereafter.

Tilly says:
27 April 2012

Anything seasoned or spiced takes on a stronger flavour when frozen. No idea why. But you notice it with already frozen curries etc, and also if I make and eat half fresh and freeze the rest. The frozen stuff is always stronger tasting after defrosting and cooking!.

@ Janet

“[Pandan (P. amaryllifolius) leaves are used in Southeast Asian cooking to add
a distinct aroma to rice and curry dishes such as nasi lemak, kaya (‘jam’) preserves,
and desserts such as pandan cake. Pandan leaf can be used as a complement to
chocolate in many dishes, such as ice cream.]”

Look up under Pandanas at the Wiki… above is an excerpt therefrom.

Fresh pandan or screwpine leaves are available fresh in the larger oriental
supermarkets/grocers in London. I keep a healthy supply of it in my freezer.
Some friends of mine in both the States and Canada have to make do with the
extract which is obviously not quite as good as the real McCoy.

Personally like premium lemon curd but that made from pandan
leaves with palm sugar (despair not, ordinary white will do) is
something to die for!

katynana says:
27 April 2012

Agree completely about runner beans (unblanched) not keeping well for texture/taste but french beans are fantastic keepers. Also, I keep up to 8x 4litre bottles of milk in my big chest freezer because my supermarket is over 1/2 hour’s drive away and I don’t like to go into town for a big shop more than twice a month owing to fuel costs. A frozen 4pinter takes about 24 hours to defrost sitting on the sink ( in a shallow tray in case the bottle has split – doesn’t happen often but makes a mess when it does) then it gets a good shake and goes into the fridge to serve us for the next 3 days. I also freeze great quantities of homegrown fruit and veg. Not to mention leftovers and doubled-up meals. We are still alive and kicking and have never, to my knowledge, had food poisoning. Long live the domestic freezer, I’ve got 4 and they are lifesavers.

bernie says:
27 April 2012

We put our bananas in a special yellow bag purchased from Lakeland plastics and pop it into the fridge, not yet tried it in a freezer.
They last a long time and even when the skins goes jet black the fruit is still white and edible.

Hibiscus says:
27 April 2012

I understood that raw salted meats were not suitable for freezing because as the water crystallizes the remaining liquid water has higher and higher salt concentrations. High salt concetrations react to hydrolyse un-denatured proteins and the hydrolysis products have an unpleasant taste. Cooked salted meats are ok because the proteins are already de-natured by the cooking process. I have never gone against the theory so cannot tell you if it is true. But why freeze salt preserved meat anyway?

Personally I don’t like any frozen thawed green or runner beans so I just eat a glut in season! The best things to freeze from the garden I find are broad beans, peas, spinach, blueberries and all other soft fruit except strawberries, cooked tomatoes, peppers, ratatouille, corn stripped off the cob (whole the taste is poor) rabbits, pheasants…

Regarding fruit in fridges – I consider the natural temperature of the fruit on the plant and during ripening. Apples and grapes in cold store – fine, but warm for a few days before eating. Tropical fruits and veg/fruit like tomatoes, be kind keep them warm, they will taste all the better!

katynana says:
27 April 2012

re: peter’ comment on runner beans. I tried the salt layer preservation methon many years ago. Yuk! I could not wash the excess salt out when it came to cooking time. Totally inedible – had to throw the lot. Never again.

marisa says:
27 April 2012

I don’t know about other types of cheeses, but I know it is a good idea to cut parmisan cheese in pieces, put enough in the fridge to last you 3/4 days, put the rest in the freezer, parmisan turns hard after a few days, but the defrosted piece will be fresh. Never buy grated parmisan, it is awful.