Megan Burda's Weekly Article

Freezing Cooked Food for Future Meals: Freezer Bag Tips

This time of year can produce a lot of leftovers between family meals and holiday parties. If dealing with a lot of leftovers, you might consider freezing them for future meals. One easy method of freezing foods, including liquid foods such as soups and stews, is to freeze them in freezer bags. Following are some tips for freezing in freezer bags.

STEP 1. Cool foods "slightly" at room temperature before refrigeration

It is not necessary for a food to be completely cool before it is refrigerated. To help food cool slightly before refrigeration:

  1. Place a shallow container of food on a cooling rack to allow air to circulate all round the pan for about 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. Limit depth of food to 2 inches.

STEP 2. Complete cooling of foods in the refrigerator

  • Cool foods to refrigerator temperature before bagging them for your freezer. It is OK to refrigerate foods while they're still warm.
  • LOOSELY cover food upon refrigeration. This allows heat to escape and protects the food from accidental contamination from other foods during cooling.

STEP 3. Pack foods into freezer bags

  • Use "freezer" bags, not "storage" bags for storing food in the freezer. Freezer bags are thicker than storage bags and will keep the food fresh longer.
  • Speed freezing and hasten thawing by freezing foods in a thin, flattened shape in freezer bags. A rounded shape takes longer to thaw through to the middle. Flatter packages also will stack better in your freezer.

STEP 4. Label foods

To avoid mystery meats and other foods of unknown age and possibly origin, label foods using freezer tape, gummed freezer labels or permanent marking pens/crayons. Include:

  • name of food;
  • packaging date;
  • number of servings or amount;
  • additional helpful information, such as form of food (sliced, chopped, etc.), any special ingredients.

It is helpful to place filled freezer bags on a flat surface in your freezer, such as a metal pan. Do not stack freezer bags until frozen so they will freeze faster. After they are frozen solid, the bags may be removed from the pan and stored, stacked, directly on the freezer shelf. Or turn them on their edge and store them vertically. This is an especially good idea when freezing liquid foods, such as soups and stews.

STEP 5. Thaw and cook frozen foods

DO NOT thaw perishable foods at room temperature. If perishable foods are left at room temperature too long, bacteria may grow and produce heat-resistant toxins that can cause food-borne illness. Cooking may not be able to destroy these toxins.

  • It's best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator.
  • Small items may thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Up to 5 pounds of food should thaw in about 24 hours.
  • If there is the possibility a thawing package might leak, you may want to thaw it on a plate or a pan.

If food is thawed in the microwave, finish reheating it right away. Unlike food thawed in a refrigerator, microwave-thawed foods reach temperatures that encourage bacterial growth. Cook immediately to kill any bacteria that may have developed and to prevent further bacterial growth.

This article comes from Nebraska Extension Resources at food.unl.edu. Authors are Alice Henneman, MS, RDN, Extension Educator & Dietitian (University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County) and Joyce Jensen, REHS, CP-FS (Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department).

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