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How to freeze food safely

Have those fishfingers been in there weeks - or years? Check you're using your freezer safely, whether it's full of purees for baby or casseroles for you

Posted: 3 March 2011
by Cheryl Freedman

Inside freezer compartment
Remember, different types of foods can be safely frozen for different lengths of time

Once you become a mum, the freezer really comes into its own. Whether you want to defrost purees, keep batches of home-made stews on standby for healthy-but-quick suppers or have a supply of expressed breastmilk in reserve for your baby, it's invaluable.

But before you put food in the freezer and forget about it, it's important to make sure it's stored correctly. In general, always read food packaging labels carefully, and check your freezer model's handbook for guidelines. Always label containers with the date and contents, and check the temperature on your freezer thermometer – it should read -18 deg C. And if you’ve been tempted by a buy-one-get-one-free supermarket offer and plan to freeze the extra item, then do it before the ‘use by’ date.

Can I freeze my expressed breastmilk?

Yes, breastmilk can be stored for up to six months in a freezer, but only two weeks in the freezer compartment of a fridge. Always freeze breastmilk within 24 hours of expressing. Choose containers that are sterilised and airtight: covered ice cube trays, small sealed bottles or breastmilk bags are ideal. Leave space in the container for the milk to expand when frozen. Defrost in the fridge and use as soon as it’s thawed. Always remember to throw away any leftovers.

How long can I store other foods for?

Different categories of food can be stored safely in the freezer for different amounts of time, so always check first:

  • Vegetable purées 6-8 months
  • Fruit purees 6-8 months
  • Beef and lamb 4-6 months
  • Ham/minced beef 3-4 months
  • Sliced bacon/sausages 2-3 months
  • Chicken/turkey/duck 4-6 months
  • White fish (cod etc) 6-8 months
  • Oily fish (salmon etc) 3-4 months
  • Shellfish 2-3 months
  • Soups and sauces 3 months
  • Cakes 4-6 months
  • Bread/bread dough 2-3 months
  • Butter 6-8 months
  • Hard cheese 4-6 months
  • Soft cheese 3-4 months
  • Ice cream 3-4 months

What are the rules for defrosted food?

  • Never refreeze food that you’ve previously defrosted and cooked
  • Use defrosted food within 24 hours unless you’ve thawed it in the microwave, in which case cook it immediately.
  • Thaw food in the fridge overnight, or if you forget, at room temperature before transferring it to the fridge.
  • Always keep food covered and put it on a plate to catch any drips.
  • Don’t attempt to speed up the process by putting the food in warm water.
  • Reheat frozen food until it’s piping hot throughout, even if this means leaving it to cool down before giving it to your tot.
  • You can refreeze cooked foods if they were previously frozen raw – for example, you can defrost a frozen chicken breast, cook it in a casserole, and then freeze the casserole.

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