Top tips on freezing food

  • By
    Caroline Hire - Food editor -

Take the guesswork out of freezing food with our guide that will have you saving time, money and effort in the kitchen.

Frozen muffins

Top 10 freezing tips

Whether you have a chest or upright freezer, the principles of successful freezing are the same.

1. Cool foods before you freeze them. Freezing food when hot will only increase the temperature of the freezer and could cause other foods to start defrosting.

2. Never re-freeze anything that's been frozen. Even if the food was frozen raw and then cooked, to be extra safe it still shouldn't be re-frozen.

3. A full freezer is more economical to run as the cold air doesn't need to circulate so much, so less power is needed. If you have lots of space free, fill plastic bottles half full with water and use them to fill gaps. Alternatively, fill the freezer with everyday items you're bound to use, such as sliced bread or frozen peas.

4. It's a wrap. Make sure you wrap foods properly or put them in sealed containers, otherwise your food can get freezer-burn.

5. Portion control. Freeze food in realistically sized portions. You don't want to have to defrost a stew big enough to feed eight when you're only feeding a family of three.

6. If in doubt, throw it out. Contrary to what many people think, freezing doesn't kill bacteria. If you are unsure of how long something has been frozen or are a bit wary of something once defrosted, don't take any chances.

7. Stay fresh. You get out what you put in as freezing certainly won't improve the quality of your food. Don't freeze old food because you don't want to waste it; the point of freezing is to keep food at its prime.

Red and blue pens8. Friendly labels. It may seem a bother at the time, but unless you label you might not remember what it is, let alone when it was frozen. Buy a blue marker for raw foods and a red marker for cooked foods. You don't have to write an essay, just label the food clearly. You can use big-lettered abbreviations, for example a big red P means cooked pork or a blue F means raw fish. And always add the date it was frozen.

9. Defrosting is a must. An icy freezer is an inefficient one, so make sure you defrost your freezer if ice builds up. Don't worry about the food; most things will remain frozen in the fridge for a couple of hours while the freezer defrosts.

10. In an emergency... If there has been a power cut or you think the freezer has been turned off at some point, don't open the door. Foods should remain frozen in the freezer for about 24 hours, leaving you time to get to the bottom of the problem.

What not to freeze...

Most individual ingredients can be frozen, and all BBC Good Food recipes are helpfully labelled with freezing instructions. However, some foods simply aren't freezer friendly:

  • Raw eggs in the shells will expand and crack.
  • Hard-boiled eggs go rubbery.
  • Vegetables with a high water content, such as lettuce, cucumber, bean sprounts and radishes, go limp and mushy.
  • Soft herbs, like parsley, basil and chives, go brown.
  • Egg-based sauces, such as mayonnaise, will separate and curdle.
  • Plain yogurt, low-fat cream cheese, single cream and cottage cheese go watery.

Great to freeze

All these everyday ingredients will freeze well.

  • Butter and margarine can be frozen for 3 months.
  • Grated cheese can be frozen for up to 4 months and can be used straight from the freezer.
  • Most bread, except crusty varieties such as French bread, will freeze well for up to 3 months. Sliced bread can be toasted from frozen.
  • Milk will freeze for 1 month. Defrost in the fridge and shake well before using.
  • Raw pastry will freeze for for 6 months and takes just 1 hour to thaw.

Cooking from frozen

Freezer management is all about forward planning, but some dishes can be cooked straight from frozen. When cooking food from frozen, use a lower temperature to start with to thaw, then increase the temperature to cook. Foods include:

Foods that should never be cooked from frozen:

Raw poultry, large joints of meat.

Keeping spring veg garden fresh

Frozen green beansFreezing is the best way of preserving a season's bounty to enjoy later. When properly frozen, vegetables retain all their flavour and nutrients. The best method of freezing is the same for peas, runner, French, dwarf and broad beans, asparagus and broccoli.

In a large pan of water, boil a handful of vegetables at a time for 30 secs. This will stop them going brown when frozen. Using a slotted spoon, scoop them out into a bowl of heavily iced water. Once chilled, drain the veg and scatter onto a tray lined with kitchen paper. Freeze on the tray then transfer to a freezer bag. Cook the vegetables from frozen in a large pan of boiling water. Do not steam, as they tend to go soggy.

And finally...

If you're unfortunate enough to get chewing gum on an item of clothing, don't fret! Pop the clothing in the freezer until the gum is frozen solid, then simply pick it off.

Great recipes to freeze

Parsnip hash browns
Choc-cherry muffins
Smoked haddock chowder
Goat's cheese, potato & onion tart
Chicken casserole with red wine, ham & peppers

Comments, questions and tips

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kendal fruitcake's picture

Large pan of boiling water, handful at a time, heavily iced water, freeze on tray before plastic bagging! 89p 990g at Icelxnd. What about the carbon footprint of all that boiling, icecubing and freezing. Take your excess to your local foodbank. I found the tip on exploding frozen eggs cautionary. Thanks so much.

Vickimac16's picture

The comment about not freezing anything which has previously been frozen, even if it has been cooked is ridiculous. I regularly prepare double quantities of meals, from frozen meat, and freeze the extra portions. No harm has ever come to us. As long as you cool the food quickly and don't put it in the freezer while it's still warm, then reheat thoroughly, there is no problem.

nhoneymonster's picture

I agree. The FSA site says that it's safe to refreeze defrosted raw food if it's been cooked first.

Dash's picture

Lots of Asian ingredients freeze incredibly well. Lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, ginger, banana leaves, pandan leaves, coconut flesh, fresh turmeric and curry leaves are good examples. A trip to an Asian grocer costs peanuts and then get them in your freezer for whenever you fancy some authentic Far Eastern flavours.

Flossy7's picture

Some great tips in this article I started an allotment earlier this year and have a lot of vegetables to freeze may even have even have to consider buying another chest freezer.I found out the hard way how important it is to label your food.Another big help is an app I have downloaded called EZFreeze.It keeps track of what is in my freezer and how long it has been there.All I need to do now is figure out the best way to freeze cabbages

evil_angelwings's picture

I've frozen cabbages successfully. I thinly slice them, blanch for 2 minutes, drain and throw in ice cold water. Freeze in a thin layer on a tray, then once frozen thrown in a freezer bag. Great for stir frying!

ewillis84's picture

I agree with jerseyporter - I freeze all my herbs if not used straight away and they're always fine to add to my cooking. I think it would depend on what you're using it for though. If just used in a stew, curry, sauce etc then they will be fine.

I am always picking up herbs in the reduced to clear section of my local supermarket and then just chop and freeze. I do the same with chillies as well.

jerseyporter's picture

Just to say I've been successfully freezing chopped fresh parsley and chives for years and they've never gone brown! I chop and open-freeze, then transfer to a clip top box to use in soups, stews, sauces etc straight from frozen. Tarragon works well too.

However, it's true that basil doesn't freeze well - but turn it into pesto and it freezes wonderfully well (make pesto as normal, but add a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon juice to stop it discolouring, then open freeze in tbsp heaps on a lined baking tray till set, then bag up).