Frozen food makes preparation easy, brings summer-fresh taste to winter meals and often contains comprable nutrients to fresh food. Safe thawing is the key to enjoying the abundance of frozen foods available at your local grocery store.
Thawing frozen food safely

Frozen food is so much more than prepared dinners.

My wife and I like to keep ingredients as natural as possible. So we look for frozen uncooked, unseasoned basic foods or main-course precooked foods such as frozen meatballs. They give us easy portion control without leftovers. They’re always handy for an unplanned meal. And the packaging gives us nutritional information that fresh, unfrozen foods don’t. That’s especially meaningful to me because I’m on a low-sodium diet.

The Canadian government site “Food Safety for Adults 60 and Over” is an excellent source of information on how to safely thaw, handle and store frozen food.

Health Canada emphasizes that senior’s immune system has a harder time protecting us from food poisoning, so extra care in thawing and cooking frozen food is very important.

If your frozen fish, meat or poultry is raw, never defrost it on a countertop.

Warmth energizes the bacteria that can spoil food. When thawing raw meats, poultry or fish use:

  • the fridge
  • the microwave (The microwave will heat up the food, so you must cook it immediately after thawing or the bacteria will have a field day)
  • a sealed bag or container submerged in cold water (change
    the water every 30 minutes or so to be sure it is always cold).
  • never refreeze thawed food.

Beware the temperature “danger zone”

While the center of the frozen food may still be frozen, the outside layer could be in the danger zone – between 4 degrees Celsius (40 fahrenheit) and 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees fahrenheit) – where bacteria that can make you sick multiply rapidly.

Store your food at a safe temperature

  • Fridge at 4C or below
  • Freezer at -18C or lower
  • Raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood in sealed containers or plastic bags – on the bottom fridge shelf so juices can’t drip onto other foods
  • Raw meat, poultry, fish and leftovers into the fridge or freezer as soon as possible because bacteria grow rapidly if the food is left out 1 hour during summer outdoor activities, or for 2 hours at room temperature.
  • Cut fruits and vegetables belong in the fridge
  • Eat refrigerated leftovers within 2 to 4 days.

The Australian Food Safety Information Council’s website provided me with this simple graphic that shows safe and dangerous temperatures. Our government uses 4C where the Aussies use 5C.

Temperature danger zone for food. Graphic courtesy of Food Safety Information Council of Austraila

Temperature danger zone for food. Graphic courtesy of Food Safety Information Council of Austraila

When in doubt throw it out

Unfortunately there is no easy way to tell if food has “gone off”. You can’t always tell from the look, smell or even taste. When in doubt, throw it out. It beats getting sick.

How long will frozen food last?

Believe it or not, there are limits. They vary by food type and even within a type. The chart below shows you some of the information from an interesting Health Canada website. The comparison with fresh food storage is useful.

Fridge and freezer storage: Refrigerator at 4 °C (40 °F) or lower,  Freezer at – 18 °C (0 °F) or lower

  • Beef – fridge: 2-4 days, freezer: 10-12 months
  • Fatty fish (salmon etc.) – fridge: 3-4 days, freezer: 2 months
  • Opened lunch meat – fridge: 3-5 days, freezer: 1-2 months
  • Cooked poultry and fish – fridge: 3-4 days, freezer: 4-6 months
  • Hard cheese – fridge: 10 months, feezer: 1 year
  • Processed cheese – fridge: 5 months, feezer: 3 months
  • Beans green or waxed – fridge: 5 days, freezer: 8 months
  • Carrots – fridge: 2 weeks, freezer: 10-12 months

It’s a very good idea to label everything you put into the freezer with the date. If you’re freezing food in your own plastic containers, identify the food on your date label. It makes it so much easier to find what you want later.

So what frozen food do we buy?

Uncooked, unseasoned frozen fish and shrimp at Costco. PC brand uncooked mini lamb t-bones and its Blue Label Angus beef meatballs. Some prepared pastas from Costco.

We add fresh greens such as string beans or broccoli, a couple of small boiled potatoes, a little onion and garlic, sautéed peppers, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, some chili pepper seeds, a touch of nutmeg, the herbs and spices we like…whatever…and voila: a delicious, no-waste meal in minutes with a minimum of cleanup and more nutrition than if we had cooked so-called fresh fish, meat or fresh produce out of season.

It’s important to maintain the food safety that’s built into frozen food. Always thaw properly. Always be sure your freezer temperature is below -18C. Enjoy.

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