Frozen foods - the low down

Emma Brown | 04 Mar, 2019

What’s healthier – fresh vegetables or frozen?

Frozen veggies can be just as good nutritionally as fresh - sometimes even better! Frozen fruits and vegetables tend to be frozen quickly after picking, which helps to preserve their nutrients. If fresh fruits and veggies are eaten soon after harvesting, they will also be full of goodness, however if they are not consumed quickly or stored in warm conditions, the vitamin content will start to reduce, in which case a frozen option may have the nutritional edge.  

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If I defrost meat or fish and cook it, can I refreeze the meal again?

Yes. Once meat/fish has been cooked it’s fine to freeze it again, even if it was originally frozen while raw. It must only be frozen once after cooking however – avoid defrosting then refreezing anything. 

Can you freeze eggs?

Yes! You can freeze separate egg whites or egg yolks, or whole eggs – but you must beat the yolk and white together first. Freeze in a suitable container, not in the shell and use within a year. Just think of all the egg yolks you can avoid wasting when making meringues now!

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How long can frozen food be stored for?

This varies. For frozen foods you purchase in store, check the best before details on the packaging. For leftover meals, it can range from 2-9 months. It’s unlikely to cause much harm if consumed a little after this time, but the quality may degrade. To be safe, try to consume all leftovers within a couple of months of freezing. 

Why are some foods not suitable for freezing? (packaging states ‘not suitable for freezing’)

This is usually because the quality will severely degrade so it’s not recommend to freeze the product. Most foods can be frozen from a safety point of view, if correctly thawed and cooked – but many foods will simply not hold their structure once frozen e.g. cucumber.

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Why does freezing affect the quality of some foods?

If foods have a high water content, the water will freeze, expanding as it does so. The size of ice crystals formed depends on how quickly the food is frozen (slower freezing results in larger crystals). Upon defrosting, the ice crystals rupture the cellular structure of the food, causing it to lose it’s form and texture, thus reducing the quality. 

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Why is it harmful to refreeze ice cream if it melts? 

It isn’t necessarily all of the time, but it can be. If ice cream has completely melted and becomes warm, bacteria can start to grow. If this is then refrozen or even consumed before freezing, it could cause a nasty tummy upset. If your ice cream is still cold and has just softened around the edges in the container, don’t worry, it should be fine to pop back in the freezer for another day. Sorry, no more excuses for polishing off a whole Ben&Jerry’s tub!

Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.