Freezing Q&A: Answers to Common Questions About Home Freezing Fruits and Vegetables!

This month's notes: September 2014: Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries tomatoes, corn and most vegetables are being picked in most places; strawberries are finishing or done; Peaches are in and early apples have started. Find a local blueberry festival and blueberry picking tips here. See how easy it is to make strawberry jam or strawberry-rhubarb jam! Make your own homemade strawberry ice cream including low fat, low sugar and other flavors))  Have fun, eat healthier and better tasting, and save money by picking your own locally grown fruit and vegetables, and then using our easy canning and freezing directions!

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Answers to Common Questions About Home Canning, Freezing and Making Jams!


How long will frozen food keep?

This depends upon the type of food and the storage temperature. Most foods obey the rule 'the colder the better'. Properly frozen food stored in a deep freeze (not a "frost-free" freezer) will retain optimum eating quality for at least 6 months ands in many cases, 1 year. frost-free freezers cycle the temperature above freezing to melt ice accumulations and may cause foods to lose some of their eating quality in a few weeks or months, depending on the temperature.

What can I freeze?

You can freeze almost any food. Some exceptions are canned food or eggs in shells. However, once the food (such as a ham) is out of the can, you may freeze it. Being able to freeze food and being pleased with the quality after defrosting are two different things. Some foods simply don’t freeze well. Examples are mayonnaise, cream sauce and lettuce. Raw meat and poultry maintain their quality longer than their cooked counterparts because moisture is lost during cooking.

How does freezing preserve food?

When frozen, many microbial actions in food, which lead to it spoiling are prevented or slowed down considerably. For example, bacteria cannot grow in the cold of the freezer. When food is frozen much of the water is 'locked up' as ice which means that many other chemical changes in food are also slowed down.

Does that mean that frozen food stored for longer is not safe?

No. Bacteria, some of which cause food poisoning, cannot grow at freezer temperatures so the storage life reflects the length of time the product is likely to remain quality of taste and texture. Eventually, even well frozen food will deteriorate and become unpalatable whilst still remaining safe to eat.

What is Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn does not make food unsafe, merely dry in spots. It appears as grayish-brown leathery spots and is caused by air reaching the surface of the food. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the food. Heavily freezer-burned foods may have to be discarded for quality reasons.

How can I prevent Freezer Burn?

Allowing no air in freezer containers is the key.  There are two ways to do this:
1. remove the air, as a vacuum food sealer does, or
2. fill the  container with liquid which pushes the air out and covers the food surfaces with liquid.
My preference is generally the vacuum food sealer for fruits and vegetables and filling with liquid for cooked foods (especially if they have a sauce)

I don't have a vacuum food sealer.  How can I remove the air from bags before freezing them?

Just slip a drinking straw in at one side of the opening, seal the bag up to the straw and suck the air out. When the air is out, and you're still sucking pull the straw out and seal the bag at the same time! It takes some practice and isn't as effective as a vacuum food sealer, but it's not bad!

What is blanching?

Heating or scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short period of time.

Is it recommended to blanch vegetable before freezing?

YES. Blanching slows or stops the action of enzymes which cause loss of flavor, color and texture. Blanching cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color and helps retard loss of vitamins. Blanching also wilts or softens vegetable and makes them easier to pack.

Preparation and boiling water blanch times for common vegetables
Vegetable Preparation and boiling water blanch times
Asparagus Leave whole or cut into 2-inch lengths. Blanch small stalks 2 minutes; medium stalks 3 minutes; large stalks 4 minutes. Cool promptly and drain.
Beans (green and yellow podded) Snip tips and sort by size. Cut or break into suitable pieces or freeze small beans whole. Blanch 3 minutes. Cool promptly and drain.
Beans, fresh lima Shell and sort. Blanch small beans 2 minutes; medium beans 3 minutes; large beans 4 minutes. Cool promptly and drain.
Beets Remove all but 2 inches of top; wash. Cook tender for 25 to 30 minutes for small beets; 45 to 50 minutes for medium beets. Chill. Remove skins. Slice or dice large beets. Pack.
Broccoli and cauliflower Trim. Separate into individual pieces. Cut broccoli stalks lengthwise. Soak 1/2 hour in salt brine (4 teaspoons of salt to 1 gallon cold water) to drive out small insects. Rinse and drain. Blanch 3 minutes in water or steam blanch 5 minutes. Cool promptly and drain.
Brussels sprouts Trim. Soak 1/2 hour in salt brine (see above). Rinse and drain. Blanch small heads 3 minutes; medium heads 4 minutes; large heads 5 minutes. Cool promptly and drain.
Cabbage Discard coarse outer leaves. Cut into wedges or shred coarsely. Blanch wedges 3 minutes and shredded cabbage 1 1/2 minutes. Cool promptly and drain.
Carrots Trim and scrape. Dice or slice 1/4-inch thick. Blanch cut carrots 3 minutes; whole carrots 5 minutes. Cool promptly and drain.
Sweet corn, on-the-cob Husk, remove silks, and trim ends. Use a large kettle for blanching. Blanch small ears (1 1/4-inch diameter) 7 minutes; medium ears (1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch diameter) 9 minutes; large ears (over 1 1/2-inch diameter) 11 minutes. Chill in ice water for as long as it takes to blanch or corn may become mushy and develop a cob flavor.
Sweet corn, cut Husk, remove silks, and trim ends. Blanch 4-6 minutes, depending on size of ear. Chill. Cut from cob.
Kohlrabi Cut off tops and roots. Wash and peel tough bark. Wash and slice 1/4-inch thick, dice in 1/2-inch cubes, or leave whole. Blanch cubes 1 minutes; slices 2 minute; whole 3 minutes. Cool promptly and drain.
Vegetable Preparation and boiling water blanch times
Mushrooms Trim stem ends. Sort by size. Freeze small ones whole; slice larger ones. To prevent discoloration, use 3 teaspoons lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid to 1 quart water when blanching. Blanch whole 4 minutes; sliced, 3 minutes. Cool and drain.
To steam blanch: Dip for 5 minutes in a solution of 1 teaspoon lemon juice or 1 1/2 teaspoon citric acid to 1 pint water. Steam whole 5 minutes; buttons or quarters 3 1/2 minutes; sliced 3 minutes.
Sauteed: Heat small quantities of mushrooms in butter for 3 minutes. Cool and pack. No blanching is required.
Okra Cut off stems without opening seed cells. Blanch small pods 3 minutes; large pods 4 minutes. Leave whole or slice crosswise. Cool promptly and drain.
Peas (green, English, black-eyed) Shell small amount at a time. Blanch green or English for 1 1/2 minutes; black-eyed 2 minutes. Cool promptly and drain.
Peas (edible pod, sugar, or Chinese) Remove stems, blossom ends, and any string. Leave whole. Blanch small pods 1 1/2 minutes; large pods 2 minutes. Cool promptly and drain.
Peppers, green Remove stem and seeds. Halve, chop, or cut into 1/2-inch strips or rings. May be frozen without blanching. For use in cooking, blanch halves 3 minutes, strips or rings 2 minutes. Cool, drain, and package.
Peppers, hot Wash and stem. Package leaving no headspace.
Pimentos Peel by roasting in oven at 400-450 degrees F for 6-8 minutes or until skins can be rubbed off. Wash off charred skins, cut out stems, remove seeds. Package.
Potatoes, Irish Plain: Wash and peel or scrub. Blanch 3-5 minutes depending on size. Cool, drain.
French fried: Use potatoes that have been stored at least 30 days. Wash, peel, and cut into thin strips. Rinse in cold water, dry thoroughly. Fry in hot fat (360 degrees F) about 5 minutes until tender, not brown. Drain on paper towels. Cool and package. Finish browning at serving time in a hot oven (475 degrees F).
Potatoes, sweet Choose potatoes that have been cured for at least one week. Sort to size and wash. Cook until almost tender (in water, pressure cooker, oven). Cool at room temperature, peel and cut in halves, slice or mash.
To prevent darkening: Dip whole potato or slices in a solution of 1/2 cup lemon juice to 1 quart water for 5 seconds.
For mashed sweet potatoes: Mix 2 Tablespoons orange or lemon juice with each quart.
Spinach and other greens Remove damaged leaves and tough stems. Blanch collards 3 minutes; other greens 2 minutes. Cool promptly and drain.
Summer squash, zucchini Peel; cut in 1/2-inch slices; blanch 3 minutes. Steam shredded zucchini 1-2 minutes or until translucent. Cool promptly and drain.
Tomatoes Raw: Wash and dip in boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen skins. Core and peel. Freeze whole or in pieces. Use for cooking or seasoning only.
Juice: Wash, sort, and trim. Cut in quarters or eighths. Simmer 5-10 minutes. Press through sieve. If desired, add 1 teaspoon salt per quart. Pour into containers, leaving headspace.
Stewed: Prepare as in juice. Cover and cook until tender, 10-20 minutes. Cool and pack leaving headspace.

Why is it necessary to cool vegetables after blanching?

Vegetables should be cooled quickly and thoroughly after blanching to stop the cooking process. Otherwise, vegetables will be overcooked with loss of flavor, color, vitamins and minerals.

Can I freeze mixed veggies? We love them and I'd rather put them together before hand than open three or four bags and mix them?

Certainly! Just blanch them (each according to it’s own method and blanching time), cool, drain, THEN combine them in your freezer bags and freeze.

I have so much potatoes. Is there a way to freeze potatoes for French fries or diced and scalloped( semi-cooked)? What is the best way to do that?

I haven’t tried it, but according to the USDA, there is:

  1. Select smooth new potatoes directly from the garden.

  2. Peel or scrape and wash.

  3. Water blanch for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size.

  4. Cool, drain and package whole or sectioned, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.
  5. Seal and freeze.

Can I Refreeze foods?

Once food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking, although there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through defrosting. After cooking raw foods which were previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked foods. If previously cooked foods are thawed in the refrigerator, you may refreeze the unused portion.

If you purchase previously frozen meat, poultry or fish at a retail store, you can refreeze if it has been handled properly.

Tomatoes

Can you freeze tomatoes from your garden?

Certainly! They will be great for a winter meal that uses cooked tomatoes, like spaghetti sauce. Tomato sauces and salsa freeze well and are convenient to have on hand for later cooking. See this page for directions about how to freeze tomatoes.

Frozen tomatoes, however, won't substitute for fresh later in things like salads. Whole Tomatoes tend to crack and collapse when they thaw, and then become soft, mushy and watery.  Not what you want on your salad (although the flavor is still great).  To freeze fresh raw tomatoes, try the following methods:

Short term freezer storage (0 to 3 months):

  1. Wash tomatoes
  2. Slice tomatoes into at least one-half inch slices. Package in a rigid airtight container and fast freeze.
  3. Or put slices on a cookie sheet and freeze for two hours, or until they are crisp on the outside. Then remove and put them into freezer bags or containers.

Long term freezer storage (3 months to 12 months):

You really need a vacuum food sealers as they will prevent freezer burn, and are recommended!

  1. Blanch tomatoes to for 30 to 60 seconds and then into ice water to remove skins (the tend to get tougher in storage)
  2. Put slices on a a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap (cling film) on a cookie sheet and freeze for two hours, or until they are crisp on the outside.
  3. Remove and put them into vacuum freezer bags or containers.
  4. Vacuum and seal them up!

You can use regular freezer bags, like Ziplocs, instead of the vacuum sealer, but you  get much better results with the vacuum sealer. TIP:  If you don't own a vacuum food sealer to freeze foods, place food in a Ziploc bags, zip the top shut but leave enough space to insert the tip of a soda straw. When straw is in place, remove air by sucking the air out.  To remove straw, press straw closed where inserted and finish pressing the bag closed as you remove straw.

Washing tomatoes:

Tomatoes should be washed before cutting. To wash, wet each tomato with water, rub its surface, rinse it with running water, and dry it with a paper towel. After washing, cut away the stem scar and surrounding area and discard it before slicing or chopping the tomato.

Washing tomatoes in a sink filled with water is not recommended since contaminated water can be absorbed through the fruit's stem scar. The use of soap or detergent is neither recommended nor approved for washing fruits and vegetables because they can absorb detergent residues.

I don't have a vacuum food sealer.  How can I remove the air from bags before freezing them?

Just slip a drinking straw in at one side of the opening, seal the bag up to the straw and suck the air out. When the air is out, and you're still sucking pull the straw out and seal the bag at the same time! It takes some practice and isn't as effective as a vacuum food sealer, but it's not bad!

Can I freeze Melons (Cantaloupe, Crenshaw, Honeydew, or Watermelon)

Yes!  Here's how:

Preparation – Select firm-fleshed, well-colored, ripe melons. Cut in half, remove seeds and rind. Cut melons into slices, cubes or balls.

Syrup Pack – Pack into containers and cover with cold 30 percent sugar syrup.  Leave ½ inch headspace. Seal and freeze.

Unsweetened Pack – Pack into containers, leaving headspace. Seal and freeze.

More on Freezing and safety

Does Freezing Destroy Bacteria & Parasites?

Freezing to 0 °F inactivates any microbes -- bacteria, yeasts and molds - - present in food. Once thawed, however, these microbes can again become active, multiplying under the right conditions to levels that can lead to foodborne illness. Since they will then grow at about the same rate as microorganisms on fresh food, you must handle thawed items as you would any perishable food.

Trichina and other parasites can be destroyed by sub-zero freezing temperatures. However, very strict government-supervised conditions must be met. It is not recommended to rely on home freezing to destroy trichina. Thorough cooking will destroy all parasites.

Nutrient Retention
The freezing process itself does not destroy nutrients. In meat and poultry products, there is little change in nutrient value during freezer storage.

Enzymes
Enzyme activity can lead to the deterioration of food quality. Enzymes present in animals, vegetables and fruit promote chemical reactions, such as ripening. Freezing only slows the enzyme activity that takes place in foods. It does not halt these reactions which continue after harvesting. Enzyme activity does not harm frozen meats or fish and is neutralized by the acids in frozen fruits. But most vegetables that freeze well are low acid and require a brief, partial cooking to prevent deterioration. This is called "blanching." For successful freezing, blanch or partially cook vegetables in boiling water or in a microwave oven. Then rapidly chill the vegetables prior to freezing and storage.

Freezer Storage Chart (0 °F)
Note: Freezer storage is for quality only. Frozen foods remain safe indefinitely.

 
Item Months
Bacon and Sausage 1 to 2
Casseroles 2 to 3
Egg whites or egg substitutes 12
Frozen Dinners and Entrees 3 to 4
Gravy, meat or poultry 2 to 3
Ham, Hotdogs and Lunchmeats 1 to 2
Meat, uncooked roasts 4 to 12
Meat, uncooked steaks or chops 4 to 12
Meat, uncooked ground 3 to 4
Meat, cooked 2 to 3
Poultry, uncooked whole 12
Poultry, uncooked parts 9
Poultry, uncooked giblets 3 to 4
Poultry, cooked 4
Soups and Stews 2 to 3
Wild game, uncooked 8 to 12

 

Tips

To prevent freezer burn, don't leave slices very long in the freezer unwrapped. Frozen sliced tomatoes should be eaten in a near-frozen state for fresh taste. Cherry tomatoes are good on salads if eaten while partly frozen.

What can you do if your freezer fails?

  • Keep the doors of the freezer shut and do no open it at all!
  • Check that it is switched on at the fusebox.
  • Check with friends and neighbors if they can store your frozen food.
  • Call a repairman - if the technician is likely to be prompt, keep the freezer door closed.

 

Depending on how full the freezer is, produce can remain frozen for 24 hours or more. The more products in the freezer, the longer the contents will remain frozen.

 

After the repairs have been made do the following:

If the frozen foods have thawed, remove them from the freezer and check the temperature close to the surface of each item. If it is warmer than the temperature of a refrigerator (>40°F or 4°C), discard the products. Check your household insurance policy or any freezer warranty you have for possible coverage.

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Other Questions and Answers

Free Resources About Storing

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Picking Tips

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