We've all seen it -- we open our freezer door and see those dry patches of white stuff under the plastic wrappers of our foods, or even on the top layer of our ice cream. Yeeech. The good news is that freezer burn will not make us sick, but it can make our foods taste bland and chewy. Topline is that freezer burn is created when food is exposed directly to cold air (keep reading for my tips on how to avoid).
March is Frozen Food Month, so get ready for a barrage of coupons and in supermarket displays showcasing penguins (yes, a penguin is their mascot), promotions, signage and samplings. Just now you might be wondering, why is there a "frozen food" month anyway? Well, the U.S. is still number one when it comes to consuming frozens, and according to calculations by Food for Thought, based on Nielsen data, the average American ate just under 110 pounds of frozen food (excluding ice cream) in 2010. Frozen meals have come a long way since Swanson first started selling their trademarked "TV Dinner" to consumers in 1953 -- turkey, cornbread dressing, peas and sweet potatoes were all packaged in an aluminum tray then put into a paperboard box and sold for just 98 cents.
Hundreds of millions of these meals were successfully sold by Swanson and other brands including Banquet, One-Eye Eskimo and Frigi-Dinner; and then in 1967 the countertop home model Radarange microwave oven became affordable at $495, and these dinners moved into their next evolution as cooking times dropped from almost 30 minutes to less than five. And in today's economy it is important to note that in almost 100 percent of the cases buying frozen versus the fresh counterpart will save you money. And with all the special deals this March its time to stock up. Most prepackaged, professionally frozen dinners when stored properly will last up to one year. Now is the time to load up for summer BBQs and holiday time (when the foods will be at regular price) -- and for extra protection -- put the entire sealed package in a plastic zip type freezer bag and mark the date you purchased them on the outside of the bag.
Back to that dreaded freezer burn. Most of the packaged foods you'll buy in the supermarket have been packaged properly and freezer burn will not be a problem. However, crinkle the bag or push down on the top of the box. If you feel or hear ice crystals it probably means they were thawed and refrozen in transit, or left out in room temperature while the store clerk was stocking the department. Avoid that package and reach way in the back to get a package that is solidly frozen.
Most of the time, we cause freezer burn by not following some simple steps. When packing in your home freezer, leave headspace of half to one-and-a-half inches above the foods to allow for airflow to make sure the food stays frozen. Try to avoid putting food on the freezer door -- that is obviously the warmest part of the freezer's space. And make sure you set the freezer temperature to zero degrees.
If you open a package, and do not use the entire contents best bet is to divide the rest into smaller portions and freeze those separately, remove all the food from the original package -- then wrap the individual portions tightly in a plastic cling wrap -- try to remove all the excess air. Then wrap in aluminum foil, then place in a plastic freezer bag and date the outside.
Ice cream is one of my favorite foods, and freezer burn seems to just love those pints of ice cream. To keep it out, make sure that you put a piece of plastic cling wrap or aluminum foil over the top of the container then replace the lid.
And for leftovers? According to the USDA there are time limits for freezer storage.
- Soups and Stews, vegetable or meat: freezer: 2-3 months
- Ham fully cooked whole: freezer: 1-2 months
- Ham fully cooked sliced: freezer: 1-2 months
- Fresh uncooked meat: freezer: 6-12 months
- Leftover meat: refrigerator: 3-4 days, freezer: 2-3 months
- Gravy and meat broth: refrigerator: freezer: 2-3 months
- Fresh raw poultry: refrigerator: freezer: 12 months
- Cooked poultry: refrigerator: freezer: 3 months
- Cooked poultry with broth/gravy: freezer: 3 months
So get your freezer ready for Frozen Food Month. Go through every package in there, get rid of any foods you cannot identify or exceed the storage time limits, Make room, because next month will be the time to save on your grocery bill!