Does freezing food make it less healthy?

It is common for families to buy or cook food in large quantities and store some in the freezer. However, many people have questioned the effectiveness and safety of this storage method. Is freezing food healthy?

A couple buying frozen food from a grocery store

The best part about shopping for unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables from local shops or markets is that you are buying them fresh, at a point where they still have their highest nutritional value. 

But, what happens after about 2-3 days? They start losing many nutrients! That is where storage options like freezing come in.

Generally, freezing helps foods like fruits and vegetables to retain their nutritional constituents. However, you may not want to store a frozen product for more than one year because some of the nutrients may begin to break down at that point.

While freezing food may not kill bacteria in the food, it can preserve the food for longer by rendering bacteria inactive for the period the food is in the freezer.

To make sure you eat safe food, ensure infectious organisms do not contaminate it before you store them. Also, heat the food to the recommended temperature before eating.

Does frozen food have fewer nutrients than fresh food?

The common misconception is that freezing food reduces its nutritional content, making it less healthy. But, that is not true; rather, the opposite is true. 

When you freeze fresh foods, the foods maintain their nutritional content - the vitamins and minerals are kept intact, and the proteins, fats and carbohydrates are also not affected. 

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Frozen food may even have more nutritional content than unfrozen food because, in some cases, foods lose their vitamins and minerals if they are not preserved in the freezer. For instance, foods like vegetables start losing moisture, increasing the risk of spoiling and a drop in nutritional value.

A study showed that unfrozen foods refrigerated at 4 degrees Celsius lost more nutrients than those stored in a freezer at -20 degrees Celcius after 3 days.

While vegetables typically start losing their nutritional content, such as vitamins, after harvest, a study indicated that storing them in the fridge increases antioxidant activity. 

Freezing foods can help reduce food wastage. It offers a convenient way of saving time for purchasing groceries frequently and can help maximise kitchen space. 

Tips for freezing food properly

There is no one best freezing technique. The best way to freeze your food will vary depending on factors like the nature of the food you want to store in the freezer (e.g., is cooked or raw?) and the microbiology of the food. It will also depend on the physical structure of the food, how long you want to store the food and the effect of freezing on the food structure.

Below are some great tips to adopt when using the freezer as a storage option:

Limit exposure of food to air

Exposing your frozen products to air can cause them to develop oxidative rancid flavours. It is best to use airtight containers or wrapping sheets to keep air away from the product. 

If you are using a freezer bag, remove as much air as possible from it before putting in your food products.

Pick out the bad ones

Before freezing your foods, ensure you pick out the bad ones. If you are freezing fruits, pick out the ones that are no longer fresh or on the verge of going bad. This is because the bad ones may contaminate the good ones before they freeze, and remember that freezing may not kill the bacteria either.

After sorting the food items, wash the washable ones like fruits, strain them of water well, allow them to dry before placing them in the freezer.

Blanch vegetables before freezing

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Blanching involves briefly immersing food (particularly vegetables) in hot water, removing it, and placing it in ice water. 

Blanching is recommended because this process stops enzymatic actions on the food, softens the outside while keeping the inside crips, helps the food produce retain its colour for longer, and helps sweeten it further.

Blanching must be done right to achieve its aim. Boil the food product for about 45-60 seconds, scoop it out and place it directly in ice-cold water. Remove the produce, pat it dry before putting it in the freezer.

Store foods at zero degrees Fahrenheit or lower

To maintain the quality of your foods, you should store them at zero degrees Fahrenheit or lower. This is to increase the shelf life of your food. 

Use your freezer thermometer to determine the temperature of your freezer. You can also check your freezer manual for the recommended settings for different uses. 

Don’t freeze food items in glass bottles

Freezing food in glass items is a no. This is because the glass can burst at a very low temperature. It is best to use wrapping sheets or plastic containers for storage. Ensure the container has a water-tight seal.

Foods you should not freeze

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While freezing food is an excellent way to preserve food and keep its nutrients intact, there are some foods you should not freeze. For instance, canned foods and shelled eggs do not freeze well. 

Other examples of foods that are better left unfrozen include:

  • Cream-based products, e.g., yoghurt, light cream, sour cream and custards (they will separate when you freeze them)
  • Fried foods (they will get soggy)
  • Vegetables and fruits with high water content, e.g., lettuce, cucumbers and melon (they will get soggy when thawed)
  • Well-cooked pasta (will get soggy unless undercooked)

Other foods that might not turn out good if frozen, especially for a long time, include Irish potatoes, milk sauces, gelatin, fruit jelly, mayonnaise, cheese, cooked rice, butter, sausage and sour cream.