Freezing Food, Part 1: Chemistry & Containers

August 10, 2009 at 12:48 pm 3 comments

While I’m new to VOAMC, I’ve been freezing leftovers for awhile.  The only experience I’ve had with freezer burn was a carton of soy ice-cream that was left in for too long – turns out cardboard is lousy at keeping out air.  Go figure.

Still, here’s what I do know:

Label the freezer bag FIRST.  Before the food is in, label the bag with the name of the dish and the current month.  I know it seems obvious, but I kept catching myself ladleing hot stews into unlabeled freezer bags – and trying to label a bag of liquid legibly is difficult.  (You can reuse the container later by removing the label with a sponge and some baking soda.)

Leave some room at the top.  Water expands in volume by about 9% when frozen, and cooked food is made up of varying degrees of water.  Soup will expand more than, say, a veggie burger – but you can’t go wrong with leaving at least 10% of the container empty.

Get the air out.   If the food is exposed to air below zero degrees farenheight, water in the food can actually subliminate directly to the vapor phase, leaving the area still safe, but all dried out – freezer burn.  But without exposure to air, this isn’t a problem.

If it doesn’t say ‘freezer’… Freezer bags, freezer tape, and freezer containers are great.  But as awesome as it is to recycle soy yogurt and margarine containers, they’re not built to effectively work in the freezer, and they aren’t worth the risk of freezer burn.

Arranging the freezer bags:

  • Get them horizontal.  Once they’ve frozen in a flat, rectangular shape, you can either stand them up like books on a bookshelf or keep them stacked.  Either way, they freeze faster and it saves a lot of space.
  • If in doubt, double-wrap.  I normally don’t double-wrap things in the freezer, but some people recommend putting several quart-sized freezer bag inside of a gallon-sized bag if you’re worried about freezer burn.  If I’m using aluminum foil, I’ll always wrap it twice, but that’s about it.
  • Use wax paper to keep bags from sticking.  There are probably other ways to keep them from sticking, but I thought it was easiest to just put a sheet of wax paper between each bag while they froze.  I removed the paper the next day.
  • Give them enough room so that the air in the freezer can circulate around the bags.  I made 2 columns of freezer bags that had an inch or so free behind them, between them, and in front of them.  If you have a stand-alone or chest freezer, this may be less important – but it seems to be a good idea for refrigerator freezers, which are sometimes less capable.

The USDA has a good site on the safety of freezing food:  Focus On Freezing.  While a lot of their advice doesn’t apply to vegans, it’s worth reading for random entertainment value (i.e., when they warn you not to freeze eggs in their shells.)

Do you have any other freezer tips or advice?

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The Tiny Freezer Game plan

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