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Published January 04, 2013, 12:00 AM

Prairie Fare: All your freezer questions answered

“I left cans of food in my garage after grocery shopping and they froze. Can I eat the food?” “My frozen meat looks a little grayish. Is it safe to eat?” “I partially defrosted some meat for dinner, but we have a family emergency and are leaving town. Can I refreeze the meat?”

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service

“I left cans of food in my garage after grocery shopping and they froze. Can I eat the food?”

“My frozen meat looks a little grayish. Is it safe to eat?”

“I partially defrosted some meat for dinner, but we have a family emergency and are leaving town. Can I refreeze the meat?”

The answer to the question in each scenario: “It depends.” All of these questions need a little clarification before answering.

Scenario 1:

If cans of food accidentally freeze in your garage during cold winter months, most of the time the food is safe, as long as the can remains intact. However, be sure to thaw the food in the refrigerator and cook it thoroughly before eating.

On the other hand, if the canned food is left in a garage all winter and you find it in the spring, the cans may have been damaged by the freezing and thawing. Harmful bacteria could have entered the food, resulting in spoilage. In that case, you will want to toss it.

Scenario 2:

If frozen meat appears grayish, most likely the meat has been freezer-burned. Freezer burn is a form of dehydration, which results in discoloration and sometimes off-flavors. The quality loss doesn’t necessarily mean the food is unsafe to eat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

As long as the food was handled safely from the store to the home and remained frozen during storage, it is safe. However, freezer-burned food may not be appealing.

Freezer burn usually results from improper packaging, which allows oxygen to come into contact with the food. Ground beef may turn grayish. Whole poultry may retain its color but the bones may darken with extended frozen storage. Vegetables may suffer color, flavor and moisture losses.

Be sure to package food properly so you avoid wasting food. To preserve the quality of meat, use moisture/vapor-proof packaging material, such as freezer bags or freezer wrap. Seal the packages tightly and label with the name of the product, date and amount. You can find information about proper packaging of frozen food in the “Food Freezing Guide,” a publication of the NDSU Extension Service, at www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/landing-pages/food-and-nutrition/food-freezing-guide-fn-403.

Scenario 3:

You can refreeze food safely and without much quality loss if there are ice crystals present in the food. If the meat is fully thawed but you do not want to use it right away, cook it and freeze the fully cooked meat. Properly packaged cooked meat will retain its flavor and quality for about three months in frozen storage.

Be sure your freezer maintains a temperature of 0 F or lower. Keep an appliance thermometer in your freezer and check it periodically. Rotate your stock so you use the oldest food first.

Here’s a quick and easy chili recipe to enjoy on a cold winter night. You also can make it ahead of time and freeze it in meal-sized portions.


Chili

½ cup chopped onion

½ pound lean or extra-lean ground beef

2 teaspoon chili powder

Pepper

1 (16-ounce) can or 2 cups tomatoes, plain or stewed

1 (8-ounce) can or 1 cup tomato sauce

1 (15-ounce) can or 2 cups kidney beans, undrained

Peel and chop the onion. Brown the ground beef and onion in a large frying pan. Pour off the fat. Stir in the rest of the food. Heat for 10 minutes and serve.

Note: To reduce sodium in the recipe, you can drain and rinse the kidney beans. Add additional tomato sauce or water to reach the desired consistency.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 240 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 12 g of fiber, 32 g of carbohydrate and 610 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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