People all across the country are trying to find ways to save money on their food amidst the cost of living crisis, with the prices of food rising by 20% over the past year. To help save up to £400 a year and make their groceries last longer, there has been an increase in people starting to freeze their food so that they can use it at a later date.
Even Sainsbury’s encouraged people to use their freezers more, by opening their own Sainsfreeze pop-up store in Shoreditch between 27-28th September. They gave away free frozen food along with advice on making the most of your freezer space.
If you’re still looking to find new ways to make the best use of your freezer and save on your grocery shop, The Safer Food Group has gathered some of their best tips and advice on how people can freeze their own food safely at home.
The foods you can freeze
A lot of foods that you enjoy can be preserved by storing it in the freezer before its use-before date. Some examples that you may not have known are:
- Cooked pasta
- Dairy products such as cheese and butter
- Fruit and vegetables like bananas and berries
- Meat that is raw or cooked
- Even herbs and spices
These types of foods can all be frozen to help extend their life – however, they all have different freezer longevity.
To discover how long food can be stored frozen for, refer to the packaging that the food comes in as this will give a clear indication to how long they can be frozen for.
- Cooked pasta should be stored for up to 2 months before they start to turn to a mushy consistency
- Most frozen fruit and vegetables can be stored in a freezer for around a year/year and a half
- Raw meat can usually be frozen for around 4-12 months
- Cooked meat that is being stored should only be kept for 2-6 months
Foods for your freezer aren’t limited to your fresh or cooked items either! Nuts can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months, and can actually be better off due to their healthy fats which can easily go off in light or warm environments. Oats, quinoa and other whole grains can be stored in airtight containers for 2-6 months, and the freezing process will even slow down the time it takes for them to spoil, preserving their nutrients for longer – like energising vitamin B6!
Mix your wilting herbs and spices in some oil, place them in an ice-cube tray and freeze. These can be used when making stews, soups or sauces – simply take a few of the frozen cubes and add them to your pot when you want to add seasoning. Fresh herbs can last in the freezer for up to 12 months, and makes it much easier to reduce your food waste and still add great flavours to your meals.
When preparing your food for the freezer, think about portion control – once it’s defrosted, it can’t be refrozen! Freeze your food in portion sizes for the amount you’ll want to use once it’s defrosted so that you don’t face any food waste. Where you can, freeze your food at its best quality, so that you can enjoy its full flavour when defrosted – but don’t worry if you’re freezing something on its use-by date, it will still be safe to consume when you want to use it.
Although you can freeze quite a range of foods, not everything should be stored in a freezer.
- Eggs will need to be removed from their shells to stop them from expanding and cracking
- Fruits and vegetables with high water content shouldn’t be frozen. These include cucumbers, lettuce, watermelon and bean sprouts
- Don’t freeze anything that has been deep-fried, as the batter or crumbing will become mushy and ruin the food
- Low-fat soft dairy products should also be avoided, such as milk, yoghurt, cream and cottage cheese
Make sure your freezers are on the right temperature
You should make it a regular occurrence to defrost your freezer completely. Taking all your food out, storing it safely in your fridge for a few hours and letting your freezer melt away all of the ice will help it run more efficiently in the long-run. You will also be able to save money by defrosting your freezer, as the built up frost and ice will increase the amount of work your freezer motor has to do, which results in it using more energy.
To defrost your freezer safely follow these top tips;
- Take out all of its contents and store it in your fridge (doing this will also give you the chance to see what you have stored away that you may have forgotten about!).
- If you have a fridge-freezer combo, you should ask family if you could store your food with them for a few hours, or use freezer bags and ice coolers to help keep your contents cold.
- Once it’s completely empty, you can turn it off and unplug the appliance – but make sure to keep the wire and plug safe and secure, as any water that drips onto it may cause damage. Keep your freezer door propped open and soak your freezer drawers in warm water with plenty of washing-up liquid.
- Use lots of towels around your freezer to help catch any of the puddles that are going to form when the ice starts to melt. This could take between 2-4 hours, depending on how warm it is.
- As soon as all of the ice and frost has melted, make sure to clean the freezer with a detergent such as washing up liquid, warm water and disinfectant. You could even use an old toothbrush on the door seal, just be careful not to damage the rubber.
Once your freezer is cleaned, make sure the freezer returns back to its proper temperature before restocking it.
Try to organise your contents so that what may have been stored at the back and forgotten about is now kept towards the front of the freezer; this will help you use it and not let it go to waste. You could consider writing a list of your freezer contents and updating it as things are used up and adding – maybe try keeping it pinned to your freezer or fridge with a magnet, or keeping a list on your phone.
You need to make sure to keep an eye on your fridge and freezer temperatures regularly. If your appliances run at the correct temperatures, you’ll be able to keep your food fresh for as long as possible. Freezers should be kept at -18°C or colder. Your fridges should be running between 2°C and 5°C.
Cool your cooked food before freezing
Although freezing your food will not kill any food poisoning bacteria that could be contained within your food, it could prevent it from multiplying and spreading.
Organising your freezer can also help with the prevention of bacterial growth. Seal your food properly in plastic containers, or strong freezer bags, to avoid direct contact between your freezer and the food. Plastic food containers would be perfect for this, as they can be stacked on top of each other and are easy to mark with permanent labels – however, durable freezer bags from the supermarket can be used as a substitute.
Another way to prevent the bacteria increasing to dangerous levels would be to make sure any cooked food is cooled before being placed in the freezer – you should aim for around 2 hours. If you put your warm food straight into your freezer, you run the risk of causing the surrounding frozen contents to partially thaw and then refreeze. This could alter the taste and texture of some foods, which will subsequently make the food inedible, as well as giving bacteria the chance to multiply.
Instead, leave your warm food on a cooling rack, or pan, to allow the air in the room to circulate the food and help cool it in a safe way. Loosely cover your food whilst it is cooling to help keep any insects at bay.
To keep your food as safe as possible try and minimise the time that it spends at room temperature. You should typically only leave your food to cool within a 2 hour period, any longer and the temperature of your food could stay in the “danger zone”.
The “danger zone” is when your food reaches between 8-60°C. These temperatures are needed for bacteria to start growing, which is why you would want to avoid your food being left to reach these temperatures. To help keep your food well out of the “danger zone” aim to get your food cooled and then stored in the freezer, or the fridge if needed, as soon as possible. The “danger zone” is incredibly important to remember, and there are various online courses that can be taken to help your understanding.
Store your food with labels and dates
You should package all of your unwrapped food carefully before freezing it to help maintain and keep the quality. Follow the same steps that are provided above to find the safest ways to store your food in the freezer.
It’s very important that you label all of the food that you are freezing with the contents and the date that you are freezing it. If you don’t label any of your food, you may come across something that has been stored and be unsure as to what it is – meaning it could become food waste. This will help keep your freezer organised.
Try keeping a permanent market near the freezer so it’s easier to remember your labels.
Defrost your food in the fridge
When it comes to you using the food stored in your freezer, put it into the fridge to help it defrost and thaw evenly, as well as keeping it out of the “danger zone”. Keeping it in the fridge as opposed to your kitchen counter, or the microwave, will help minimise the multiplication of any food bacteria that is present in the food.
When you freeze your food, the cells will start to break down which means food will release liquid as they defrost. High-risk foods such as raw meat and fish can release liquid that can contaminate other foods relatively easily when thawing.
To stop this, let your food defrost in its container or bag and then separate the two safely. Place your defrosted food on a plate, and then proceed to tip the liquid safely down the sink. Make sure to wash the areas that your frozen liquid may have touched with warm water and detergent to get rid of any residue, as well as a disinfectant to eliminate any pathogenic bacteria.
Once your food has been fully defrosted, there are different periods of time that certain foods will need to be consumed by. It is recommended that high-risk foods such as meat, fish and poultry are all used within 24 hours. This will help limit the multiplication of bacteria.
If you cook your food and would like to store it again, you should only keep it in the fridge for around 2-3 days before needing to consume it.
It’s important to remember that you cannot refreeze any food that has been defrosted. This is because the process of thawing and defrosting your food gives food poisoning bacteria a greater time period to develop and multiply. Instead, make sure to only defrost the food that you are definitely going to consume within that short period of time. Making a meal plan will help ensure you are only going to defrost the necessary foods.
Freezing your food whilst it’s still fresh is a great way to help you save money, especially over the next couple of months. £100’s can be saved every year by correctly freezing any food that you may not be able to consume before its use-by date, which can help cut down on food waste and save you money on your grocery shop!
The Safer Food Group is an online food health and safety training provider that specialises in delivering award-winning online courses. They are a market leading company that is focused on meeting the needs of the food industry, and have provided training to the NHS, Papa Johns, Blue Arrow and Local Authorities including Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire and York.
They pioneered the accessible, online delivery method, and they pride themselves on their agility, flexibility and innovative approach to training those in food safety. Having good food safety is a vital part of many businesses, and The Safer Food Group has courses written specifically for food professionals.