A guide to freezing food safely

Medically reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson, words by Jessica Rapana
Photo credit: Ivannag82 - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

Freezing food and leftovers is a great way to cut down on waste. However, it is important to chill, freeze and defrost food properly to avoid harmful bacteria from growing and possibly even causing food poisoning.

Put it this way, your freezer effectively acts as a pause button on food – once food is frozen, it won’t deteriorate and most bacteria can’t grow in it.

Foods you can freeze

According to NHS guidelines, you can freeze pretty much everything, including:

  • Yoghurt
  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Cheese (except soft cheese as the freezing process affects the texture)
  • Eggs
  • Bananas (peel first and wrap them or place in an airtight container first)
  • Baked goods
  • Rice
  • Bread

Foods with a high water content, such as strawberries or tomatoes, will go squishy after being defrosted but are still fine to cook with.

How to freeze food

You can freeze foods right up until the ‘use by’ date. Leftovers and homemade goods should be frozen as soon as possible.

What is best to freeze food in

To stop the cold air from drying food out, place food in:

  • An airtight container; or
  • Wrap it tightly in freezer bags or something similar before freezingPhoto credit: Unsplash/Dev Benjamin

How long to cool before freezing

Make sure dishes are cooled as quickly as possible – ideally, within two hours – before putting them in the freezer.

Freezing meat and fish

It is safe to freeze meat and fish as long as you do the following:

  • Freeze it before its use by date
  • Make sure it is properly wrapped
  • Date the meat on the day you defrost it
  • Defrost it thoroughly before cooking (either in the fridge or in the microwave)
  • Eat it within 24 hours of defrosting
  • Once defrosted, cook it until it is steaming hot throughout

Defrosting

The Food Standards Agency recommends defrosting food fully in the fridge (don’t defrost food at room temperature). However, if this is not possible, you may use a microwave on the defrost setting directly before cooking. You must also check the guidance on the food packaging and allow enough time for your food to defrost properly as some large items can take up to four days to defrost fully in the fridge.

Once your food is fully defrosted, make sure you eat it within 24 hours.

Photo credit: bunhill - Getty Images

Refreezing food

The NHS guidelines recommend refreezing cooked meat and fish only once and as long as they have been cooled before going into the freezer.

Do not refreeze raw meat or fish that has been defrosted but you can refreeze frozen meat and fish after it has been defrosted and cooked.

Frozen raw foods, such as berries or bananas, can be defrosted once and stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours before they need to be cooked or thrown away.

Pro tip: if you are freezing your leftovers, divide the meal into portions and store accordingly so you can defrost as you need.

How long can food be frozen

Technically, because the freezer is pushing pause and stopping bacteria from growing, food will be safe to eat for over a year. However, over time frozen food will deteriorate in quality.

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