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Freeze foods early, reduce stress later
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Freezing foods before company arrives can reduce stress during the holiday crunch.
Brent Fountain, a nutrition professor with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said cooking ahead of time and freezing dishes is much easier than exhaustive efforts the day before or the day of a large holiday meal. Proper wrapping for freezer storage is important in maintaining the food's quality.
“Be sure the container is completely sealed and not susceptible to cracking or breaking. A well-sealed package will help ensure no ice crystals form on the product,” he said. “Read the labels to make sure the wrap or container is appropriate for freezer use.”
The food's ability to maintain its quality will depend on the type of food, how well it is protected from freezer damage and how long is it kept in the freezer. Too much air in a container can lower the food's quality as well.
Carmen Jefcoat, Extension area food and nutrition agent based in Smith County, said baked goods that are low in moisture freeze well with very little change in their texture. While foods will remain safe over extended time at 0 degrees, their quality will decline. Use within three months for the best results.
“Label the packages with the contents, date it was prepared and cooking instructions,” Jefcoat said. “Anticipate thawing needs and freeze in microwave-safe dishes if necessary.”
Fountain warned that counter-thawing is not safe and allows time for dangerous bacteria to grow.
“Two hours, total, is the maximum time perishable food should be at room temperature,” Fountain said. “This includes holiday pies, such as pumpkin and sweet potato, which have eggs, milk or high moisture content. Some commercial pies may be purchased at room temperature but need to be refrigerated later.”
Dividing items, such as meats or soups, into smaller containers is an effective way to cool them faster. Avoid placing hot items in refrigerators or freezers because they can increase the temperature and hurt the quality of foods. Fountain also recommended dividing into small portions for later use.
“Once you defrost the item, it should not be refrozen. Freeze only in portions for what you need in the future,” Fountain said.
“When it's time to defrost, cook the food to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. If it is a food that is edible when cold, you don't have to reheat and thawing in the refrigerator is sufficient,” Fountain said. “When thawing meat in the microwave, remember it needs to be turned over and around frequently to allow for even heating of the food.”