How to freeze food and for how long

Buying in bulk can save you big money, but the problem is how to eat all that food before it goes bad. Today, we show you how to properly freeze food and for how long, as well as how to thaw then reheat frozen food.

There are quite a few mistakes people make when freezing food, many of which may seem like a no-brainer. The first is that they leave it too long before freezing.

The best time to freeze food that you’ve bought is as soon as you bring it home from the supermarket.

If you’ve just cooked a big meal and want to freeze leftovers for later in the week (or month), then you should let it cool slightly before placing it in the freezer. If the leftovers are too hot, the temperature in your freezer will rise, meaning it will take longer for the food to freeze and could potentially thaw other foods.

Read more: Low-budget healthy eating tips

When you put home-cooked meals in the freezer, it’s a good idea to place a bit of sticky tape on the container, with the date you put it in the freezer. Then, using the quick reference below, you can monitor your frozen goods and know what you can eat and what you need to throw out.

To avoid freezer burn, make sure the food is properly wrapped and airtight. Freezer burn occurs when foods have been exposed to air during freezing. While you can still eat food that’s been affected by freezer burn, the taste and texture will be affected. It’s best to use airtight containers or zip-lock bags to ensure your food stays unaffected.

Another great idea to preserve the integrity of frozen food is to select it just before you get to the register and to have an esky or cooler bag in the car when you return from the supermarket. That way, your frozen food will be at its coldest and, when you get to your car, you can pop in any frozen foods you’ve bought and they’ll stay frozen until you get home. Place frozen foods in the freezer as soon as you get home – don’t give them time to thaw.

Read more: How to shop smart and save

Use this chart as your guide to maximum freezing times for a wide range of foods.

Raw meat

  • beef mince: three months
  • beef steaks and roasts: six months
  • lamb mince: three months
  • lamb cutlets, chops and roasts: three to six months
  • pork mince: two months
  • pork chops and roasts: three to six months
  • bacon, ham, prosciutto: one month
  • sausages: three months

Raw poultry

  • mince: three months
  • chicken pieces: six months
  • whole chickens: 12 months
  • duck: three months

Raw seafood

  • white fish fillets: six months
  • salmon, trout or other oily fish: two months
  • shellfish: two months

Cooked/prepared foods

  • beef and lamb casseroles: three months
  • pork casseroles: one month
  • vegetarian casseroles: six months
  • cooked and shelled prawns: one month
  • cooked leftover meats: two months
  • soups: four months
  • fresh pasta: three months

Baked goods

  • cakes: four months
  • pancakes and crepes: two months
  • bread: eight months
  • pastries: eight months
  • muffins: 12 months
  • fruit cakes: 12 months
  • pies: four months

Dairy products

  • butter, salted: 12 months
  • butter, unsalted: three months
  • margarine: six months
  • hard cheeses, such as cheddar: three months

The best ways to thaw food

Foods such as cakes muffins, pastries and biscuits are ideally thawed at room temperature. To avoid food becoming soggy during thawing, make sure you remove food from packaging.

Foods with medium moisture content, such as pasta, sliced bread, frozen vegies or home-cooked meals can be reheated from frozen. Freeze cooked meals in single serving sizes for faster thawing and reheating.

Read more: How to stretch your food budget

Any meat, fish, fruit and food with high liquid content should be defrosted in the fridge to avoid bacteria growing during the thawing process. When thawing meat, ensure you leave it at least a full 24 hours (or longer) to allow ice crystals to fully break down. Also, place it on a plate to catch any juices.

When defrosting fruit, place in a single layer on top of a paper towel to absorb any liquid.

And here’s another money-saving tip: make sure your freezer is always well packed, because it takes less energy to cool and circulate the air that keeps your food frozen.

Do you have any freezing food tips for our members?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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