By Cassidy Hobbs Hall
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
Johnston County Cooperative Extension
This is the 3rd in a series of 6 Food Preservation articles that will publish each Friday
COVID-19 has certainly impacted nearly all aspects of everyday life, especially grocery supplies and prices. House of Raeford continues to offer bulk chicken sales to the public. If you haven’t already participated, it may be on your to-do list as the general supply chain of meats experiences a lag. Perhaps purchasing large quantities of meats from a locally owned store or farmer is also on your calendar. If so, properly handling and freezing those meats will ensure your foods maintain safety and good quality.
Freezing does not sterilize foods. The extreme cold temperature pauses the growth of microorganisms and slows down changes that impact food quality. With that being said, never leave animal products at room temperature for longer than two hours. During the time at room temperature, microorganisms thrive and can grow to levels that result in foodborne illness as well as spoilage. You’ll also want to be sure you aren’t attempting to freeze too much food at once as this will slow the freezing process, resulting in a mushy product. It is recommended to freeze two to three pounds of food per cubic foot of freezer space at once.
Packaging materials are crucial for maintaining good quality and preventing freezer burn. There is a difference in material when it comes to “freezer bags” versus “storage bags.” Freezer bags have a much thicker material, making it more difficult for oxygen to pass through and cause freezer burn. Special freezer paper, heavy-duty aluminum foil, drugstore wrap, or butcher wrap are ideal packaging materials. If you are purchasing meats from the grocery store, the plastic-wrapped packages you purchase meats in are not designed for freezing. Choosing not to repackage or properly wrap the items will result in freezer burn. It is a good idea to package meats in meal-size portions, placing two layers of freezer paper or wrap between each portion of meat to help separate the meat when frozen. This helps to speed the thawing process.
Eggs seems to be a hot commodity as well. You may also be a person who has backyard chickens who lay more eggs than you can eat. Eggs will keep in the refrigerator for at least one month, and will last you about three weeks beyond the date on the carton. Freezing is often unnecessary but it can be done. You’ll have to break the eggs prior to freezing. It is the best practice to break each egg separately into a bowl before mixing with others. This simply reduces the risk of having one bad egg ruin the entire mixture. For freezing whole eggs, mix together the yolks and whites, but be careful not to whip air into the mixture. Package the eggs in a freezer container, such as a freezer jar, leaving ½ inch of headspace for expansion. Again, keep in mind the portions of eggs you’ll thaw and eat in a given timeframe. You can also use ice trays for freezing portions of eggs. Measure about three tablespoons of egg mixture into each ice tray compartment. Freeze until solid and repackage the frozen cubes into a freezer container. Each cube equals one whole egg. If you find that freezing egg yolks results in a grainy texture, it is recommended to add ½ teaspoon of salt per cup of whole eggs or per cup of egg yolks. If you are only freezing the egg whites, two tablespoons of the egg-mixture equals one egg white.
You may also be interested in freezing dairy products. When it comes to dairy, there are only a few products that do not freeze well due to separation: sour cream, cream cheese, and cottage cheese. Cheese can be frozen, however, it is possible for frozen cheese to become crumbly and mealy. When it comes to freezing cream, it is recommended to only freeze heavy cream; heat to 170 degrees to 180 degrees for fifteen minutes and cool quickly. If storing longer than two months, add 1/3 cup of sugar per quart. Always freeze in a freezer container and leave ½ inch of headspace for expansion. Butter made from pasteurized cream, pasteurized milk, and buttermilk can all be frozen. Those bought from a store will fit this bill due to safety regulations. Some separation will take place when freezing milks, but give it a stir before consuming and you’ll be good to go. If you freeze milks in their original plastic container, you’ll run the risk of split sides due to expansion or popping a top. The best practice is to repackage into freezer jars or containers, leaving ½ inch of headspace.
Finally, ice cream should not be stored for longer than one month in its original container. The original container is not moisture-vapor resistant. After one month in storage, it loses volume and the surface becomes waxy and sticky while there may also be a change in flavor. You can always repackage or simply wrap the package with freezer wrap. Unfortunately, homemade ice cream does not freeze well. Although you may have done it before, it is difficult to freeze and maintain texture because it becomes grainy. Of course, these are only quality issues, but commercial ice creams usually have added milk solids or gelatin to prevent this issue.
Again, these are all quality concerns you may run into when freezing. Freezing ensures safety until the foods are thawed. Always thaw foods in the refrigerator to reduce the time at room temperature and greatly reduce the risk of foodborne illness from improper thawing. Meats can be thawed in the refrigerator, as part of the cooking process, under cold running water, or by using the microwave’s defrost function; however, foods thawed under defrost settings must be cooked immediately. Always ensure meats are cooked to the correct internal temperature to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Fish and whole cuts of meats should be cooked to 145 degrees, ground beef and ground pork should be cooked to 160 degrees, and all poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees. Always chill left overs as quickly as possible. Remember, foods should never be left at room temperature longer than two hours.
Freezing pauses the food storage clock for safety, but certainly, quality may change over time. For more information concerning storage times for best quality, please visit this link.