All too often, the household freezer becomes a wasteland of forgotten food—last summer’s zucchini bread is stuck behind last week’s veggie curry leftovers, and somewhere half a carton of Cool Whip hangs around, most likely never to be used.
It’s also pretty much guaranteed that at least one of the items wedged inside this vast tundra is marred by freezer burn. On meat, freezer burn shows up as whitish-brown spots—on other foods, you may see areas that appear puckered. This is what happens when frozen food is exposed to air and some of its moisture evaporates, leaving behind dry and spongy pockets on the surface. Yet with a little care, you can prevent the burn and safely preserve your foods, for whenever you are ready to eat them.
How to stop freezer burn from happening
Freezer burn occurs when frozen food has been damaged by dehydration and oxidation. It’s generally due to food not being securely wrapped in airtight packaging. To prevent freezer burn, you want to make sure no air can reach the surface. To do so, first let food cool, then wrap tightly in tinfoil or plastic wrap.
Or, if you're using a Ziplock bag, take the time to squeeze all the air out before sealing. You can also wrap and freeze individual portions for easier defrosting, too. Bottom line, you want as snug a fit as possible, and by minimizing the amount of air trapped in with the food, you can dramatically reduce the likelihood of freezer burn.
How long does food last in the freezer?
What’s more, packing food properly saves you space—and also keeps items at their peak flavor and texture, longer. Here are the general guidelines for how long you can expect different foods to stay good in the freezer, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation:
- Fruits and vegetables: 8 to 12 months
- Poultry: 6 to 9 months
- Loaves of bread: 6 months
- Rolls or buns: 5 months
- Fish and seafood: 3 to 6 months
- Ground meats: 3 to 4 months
How to freeze fresh fruit
Good news: there’s an easy way to preserve some of nature’s bounty. Check out our handy guide on freezing fresh fruit that will ensure it’s freshness for up to 8 to 12 months. Here are some tips:
Step 1: Give everything a good wash
Wash your fruit before you freeze it to ensure that soil or dirt particles don’t stick on—they’re also a pain to get off when frozen. Also, allow your fruit to dry before placing in the freezer to avoid any water forming a frozen shell around it.
Step 2: Pitt, stem, and clean
If you're freezing fruits with stones, like peaches, cherries, plums, and apricots, make sure to pit them and slice first. Or if you’re freezing fruits with stems, like strawberries, oranges, grapes, and apples, remove leaves and slice them.
Step 3: Prevent darkening
Some fruits like apples and bananas will begin to brown when left out, due to oxidation. Unfortunately, this can also happen to fruits in the freezer. In order to avoid darkening, toss the cut fruit with a little vitamin C (try orange juice). Or, you can use vitamin C crystals, which dissolve in a bit of cold water.
Lemon juice is also known to prevent darkening, however, it doesn’t work quite as well. If you choose to use this method, mix together three tablespoons of lemon juice with one quart cold water, and soak the fruit in it for approximately two minutes. Once finished, drain the fruit and freeze.
Step 4: Pack it up
This is a crucial step in properly freezing your fruit. After it’s dry, pits removed, stems cut, and vitamin C crystals (or lemon water) applied, then pack it into airtight-sealed containers or bags. This will ensure that no air can get to the food, and therefore will prevent any freezer burn. It’s also important to note that if you’re using a bag, then make sure to push out all the air and seal quickly so no air can get back in.
How to freeze fresh vegetables
Just like fruits, vegetables can also be frozen and last up to 12 months. Follow our handy guide on how to store your veggies in the freezer to keep them at their peak. Here are some tips:
Step 1: Wash all the vegetables
For all the veggies you’re freezing, give them a good wash and make sure they’re free from any soil or dirt particles. After all, you wouldn’t want that stuff frozen on them for months.
Step 2: Blanching time
Many veggies need to be blanched (quickly boiled or steamed) before they’re put in the freezer. Blanching eliminates microorganisms that might be lurking on your produce, and also halts enzyme activity that causes vegetables to ripen.
To begin the blanching process, bring a gallon of water to a boil and put the veggies in a mesh basket that can easily be lowered into the pot. When you’re done, quickly run the veggies under cold water to stop them from cooking.
Step 3: Pack ‘em up
Before packing your veggies up, make sure they’re completely dried to avoid freezer burn. Then place them in airtight sealed containers or bags—but try not to leave any extra room for air inside. The more veggies you can fit into each container or bag, the better.
Quick tips for freezing other food
Start by wrapping meats very tightly in either plastic wrap or freezer paper, pressing the wrapping right up against the surface of the meat. Next, wrap another layer of aluminum foil around the meat or seal it inside a freezer bag. Packaged like this, meat can be kept frozen for up to three to four months.
Refrigerate fish as soon as possible after your purchase. It’s important you don’t wait until it’s almost spoiled to freeze it. This will result in poor quality when it's thawed and ready to use. Additionally, any air that comes into contact with your fish in the freezer will ruin it. So you must prevent air from getting to the fish by vacuum-sealing it, glazing it, or wrapping it tightly.
If you choose to glaze fish then start by dipping it in chilled water and placing it on a sheet pan in the freezer. Let the water freeze, then repeat the process several more times to get a quarter-inch thick ice glaze on the fish. You can then put your glazed fish into a plastic bag for storage.
You can also use plastic wrap to envelop your fish and then put them in plastic bags, however, this isn’t recommended for more than a few days. This is because it’s not as effective at preventing moisture loss and freezer burn as the other methods.
One might think that freezing bread would dry it out, but if you freeze it correctly, you’ll have fresh bread stored in your freezer that’s ready to use when you need it. If your bread is homemade, the key is to make sure that it has fully cooled. Then stored in a freezer bag with as little air as possible. You can also double-bag the bread and squeeze out all the air that you can to ensure it won’t suffer from freezer burn.
If you bought bread from the store, take note: Bread wrappers are not designed for the freezer. For longer storage you need to wrap the bread better, remove the air from the container, and use a moisture-vapor proof material—freezer-grade plastic wrap and aluminum foil work great.
You can also use a plastic freezer bag or vacuum sealer. If you do go this route, make sure to flash freeze the bread for an hour or two on a cookie sheet before using a vacuum sealer—this way the bread doesn’t get flattened.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont