Top tips on freezing food

Take the guesswork out of freezing food with our guide. From freezer maintenance to labelling, these tips will save you time, money and effort in the kitchen.

Lunchboxes in a freezer

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. Only refreeze food if you're cooking it in between. When food is thawed bacteria can mulitply quickly, particularly at room temperature. If you pop it in the freezer, the bacteria survives and are more likely to reach harmful levels on second thawing. However, if you cook the food in between eg thawing beef mince, using it to make a bolognese and then refreezing, it's not a problem as the bacteria will have been killed off in the cooking process. 

3. A full freezer is more economical to run as the cold air doesn't need to circulate as much, so less power is needed. If you have lots of space free, half-fill plastic bottles 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 may 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.

8. 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.

Frozen blueberries in a jar and on a wire cooling wrack

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 sprouts and radishes, go limp and mushy.
  • Soft herbs, like parsley, basil and chives are fine for incorporating in dishes but won't be good for garnishes.
  • 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 seasonal veg garden fresh

Freezing 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.

Frozen peas in a plastic bag

Try these easily freezable recipes:

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

Read more about how to freeze food...

To freeze or not to freeze
How to freeze runner beans
How to freeze apples
How to freeze rhubarb
The best freezable family meals

Comments, questions and tips

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shrinking violet
6th Aug, 2015
Where on earth did you get some of this "information" from? You can re-freeze anything other than meat/fish/dairy (and they can be re-frozen after cooking anyway). You will lose texture and taste - but you won't die. And there are no hazards in, say, re-freezing vegetables or bread, for example. Though I wouldn't recommend it on taste alone! I've never had parsley go brown on its being frozen. I have variously chopped it, and frozen with a little water in ice-cube trays (easy to sling a cube into a casserole as required) or as the whole stem (just bash it when frozen, and it shatters into the equivalent of chopped parsley: discard the stems, though.) The most important aspect of freezing is to label everything with a date! You are sure you will remember that lump of foil-wrapped something, but in a couple of months' time you will have forgotten what it was/is. And to that end, you really do need freezer-proof labels (or the adhesive on ordinary labels will cease to stick) and freezer-proof pens (biro fades to nothing at cold temperatures). Make your freezer work for you: blanch and freeze gluts of veg. freeze gluts of fruit either in sugar/syrup or as purees, and in the middle of winter, you'll be glad of the largesse in your freezer. And finally - when making a recipe, my rule of thumb (for casseroles at least) is "make one/freeze one" It takes little extra time to prep a double quantity - but you will end up with a ready-made, home cooked meal in the freezer for those days when time is at a premium.
kendal fruitcake
2nd May, 2015
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.
9th Dec, 2014
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.
17th Jul, 2015
I agree. The FSA site says that it's safe to refreeze defrosted raw food if it's been cooked first.
20th Nov, 2014
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.
9th Sep, 2014
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
8th Nov, 2014
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!
13th Jul, 2014
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.
23rd Jun, 2014
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).
philthom4s's picture
31st Mar, 2015
Why wouldn't you refreeze something previously frozen? I don't feel like that would ruin anything. Is it a health something?
goodfoodteam's picture
20th Apr, 2015
Hi philthom4s thanks for getting in touch. Although freezing stops bacteria on food from multiplying it doesn't kill it. Therefore when the food has been defrosted the bacteria become active and can start to multiply. If this is then frozen again any new bacteria which has now formed is frozen too and will increase yet again once defrosted.  
17th Jul, 2015
On the FSA site it says that you can refreeze defrosted raw food as long as it's been cooked first, so isn't it refreezing defrosted cooked food that is more of an issue?
20th Oct, 2014
I have a bag of cooked frozen prawns. The bag was sealed but there's a lot of ice in it and some of the prawns look odd - white, dry and rubbery looking and they feel soft and bend. They don't look right but are they safe to eat and why are they like this?
goodfoodteam's picture
7th Nov, 2014
Hi there thanks for your question, it sounds like they have freezer burn as the packet was not sealed and the food was not protected. Do not eat them and make sure in future all food is sealed or wrapped well before freezing.
14th Nov, 2013
You say you cannot successfully freeze herbs. However, I find that if I fill an ice cube tray with say basil, parsley etc and fill with water and freeze I have lovely cubes of herbs that I can put straight in my cooking