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6 Guidelines To Freezing Foods

The freezing of foods whether raw or cooked is designed to prolong the shelf-life of these products so that they may be used at a later stage. However, this prolonging of shelf-life is limited and needs to be handled in a controlled way. 

For instance, temperature control and handling of foods cannot be ignored just because we are going to freeze foods afterwards.

Although the freezing process limits and stops the growth of bacteria. It does not always kill all germs. This is particularly true for bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes.

This means, that before freezing can take place, the following criteria need to be followed: 

1. Freezing Cooked Foods

When it comes to freezing foods, cooked foods intended to be frozen should not be left out at ambient temperature or on the counter for extended periods. Usually 40 minutes is safe and the general rule of thumb is 2 hours.

This depends on what the temperature is of course. Meaning, high temperature 27 to  +32 °C (80 to 90 °F) should be less time out and therefore leaning more to 40 minutes than 2 hours.

Anyone working in a commercial kitchen will know that these temperatures are not unusual. 

Perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter, or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

When defrosting frozen food, it’s best to plan ahead and thaw in the refrigerator where it will remain at a safe, constant temperature — at 5 °C (40 °F) or below. 

Cool freshly cooked food as quickly as possible before freezing foods. Placing foods that are still warm in the freezer can raise the temperature, causing surrounding frozen items to partially defrost and refreeze. Which can alter the taste and texture of some foods.

2. Freezing Defrosted Foods

Foods that have already thawed or defrosted can be refrozen if the below was followed : 

  1. These foods were defrosted in a fridge and the cold chain was maintained. 
  2. These foods were kept for less than 3 days in a fridge.
  3. Foods should be wrapped or sealed to be airtight.
freezing foods

3. Refreezing Frozen Foods

Foods purchased/delivered frozen should go straight into the freezer and can be kept frozen.

If these foods were placed in a fridge to defrost, then the above Point 2 applies. 

Tip for freezing foods: The original packaging that is used in retail stores is permeable to air and is often not suitable for long term storage. It is best to provide additional wrapping on such products in order to prevent degradation and freezer burn. 

4. Freezing Foods By Expiry / Best Before Dates

As a reminder, check out our article on expiry dates. These dates depend on the assumption that these foods will be kept at the required temperature. 

Foods that are within or on the expiry date can be frozen IF the cold chain was maintained. Freezing foods after the expiry date should be done at your own risk.

There is never any guarantee that expired foods have pathogens present, but the old saying goes: “that the risk does increase”. 

5. Freezing Ice-cream

Ice-cream used for display, especially at the buffet of a restaurant are usually never kept at -18 °C (0°F). The reason for this is, that it is almost impossible to scoop ice-cream at this temperature. At the end of service, the ice-creams are never discarded and are placed back into the freezer. It is only safe to refreeze ice-cream if it is slightly melted and has been kept cold. If it melted outside the freezer, refreezing it and eating it could be unsafe. When ice-cream melts, bacteria such as  L. monocytogenes can grow. Listeria outbreaks can occur in freezers when ice-cream that melted is refrozen.

freezing foods

6. Freezing Foods Temperature Guide

According to the below is a guide for Quality storage of foods. This is the time period recommended to maintain the quality of the items, and not necessarily the food safety of the products! 

When we talk about quality, we mean that frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavour when stored for longer times in the freezer, regardless of the temperature.

We know that no chef has won any culinary awards by using frozen products that have been stored for extended periods of time (+3 Months)

Category Food Refrigerator Freezer
5 ° C (40 °F or below)  -18 ° C  (0 °F or below)
Salads Egg, chicken, ham, tuna & macaroni salads 3 to 5 days Does not freeze well
Hot dogs opened package 1 week 1 to 2 months
unopened package 2 weeks 1 to 2 months
Luncheon meat opened package or deli sliced 3 to 5 days 1 to 2 months
unopened package 2 weeks 1 to 2 months
Bacon & Sausage Bacon 7 days 1 month
Sausage, raw — from chicken, turkey, pork, beef 1 to 2 days 1 to 2 months
Hamburger & Other Ground Meats Hamburger, ground beef, turkey, veal, pork, lamb, & mixtures of them 1 to 2 days 3 to 4 months
Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb & Pork Steaks 3 to 5 days 6 to 12 months
Chops 3 to 5 days 4 to 6 months
Roasts 3 to 5 days 4 to 12 months
Fresh Poultry Chicken or turkey, whole 1 to 2 days 1 year
Chicken or turkey, pieces 1 to 2 days 9 months
Soups & Stews Vegetable or meat added 3 to 4 days 2 to 3 months
Leftovers Cooked meat or poultry 3 to 4 days 2 to 6 months
Chicken nuggets or patties 3 to 4 days 1 to 3 months
Pizza 3 to 4 days 1 to 2 months

Foods kept at -5 °C , -10 °C and -12 °C cannot be kept at the above tables time periods.