Freezer Cooking is Convenient, But Make Sure it’s Safe
In today’s fast-paced society it can be difficult to find time to prepare a healthy, home-cooked meal. For a lot of us, we try to avoid the fast-food solution in an attempt to stay healthy. That’s where batch cooking and doubling recipes — also known as freezer cooking — comes into play.
Julie Howard, M.D., a family physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Tomah, says, "Freezer cooking can be an effective means of creating quick, easy, healthy meals down the road. However, it’s important to make sure you’re well aware of the health risks involved with improper food storage."
Dr. Howard shares food safety tips to remember when freezer cooking:
Let food cool before storage. A lot of us like to clean up the mess left over from a meal right away. So, the tendency is to put our leftovers in a container and directly into the refrigerator. It’s important to let the food cool before storing it in the refrigerator. This keeps the temperature inside the refrigerator from rising. Also, be sure to allow the air to circulate around your food for 20 to 30 minutes — aiding in the cooling process.
Cool foods before freezing. Make sure to cool your food to refrigerator temperature before freezing it. Loosely cover the food in the refrigerator to allow any residual heat to escape.
Use freezer containers/bags. It’s essential to use freezer bags and containers when freezing food. These are obviously designed for freezer use, so they’re thicker, and they keep food fresh longer. Be sure to remove as much air from the bag as possible, and try to freeze food in a thin, flattened form as this will help with storage and thawing.
Remember to label. Using freezer tape, gummed freezer labels or permanent marker, label all foods you freeze. Be sure to include the name of the food, packaging date, serving size/amount and special ingredients.
Thaw properly. It’s essential to avoid thawing your food at room temperature. When foods are left out at room temperature too long, bacteria form. Those bacteria produce heat-resistant toxins that can cause food-borne illnesses. You must plan ahead so that you can thaw properly. Safe thawing is a slow process. Five pounds of food can take up to 24 hours to thaw in the refrigerator. In crunch situations, you can thaw in the microwave, but refrigerator thawing is the healthiest option.
“Improper thawing of food can cause many stomach ailments, including food poisoning,” adds Dr. Howard.
Our busy lives can make it feel impossible to find the time to prepare healthy, home-cooked meals. Freezer cooking is a great option, as long as the proper food safety procedures are followed.