I field quite a few consumer calls in an average week. This week someone’s garage freezer stopped working due to the changes in temperature in the garage. Some of her food thawed. The food was still refrigerator-cold and had ice crystals. It was safe to use or freeze again.
In my home, we had the same issue with our freezer and got a “garage freezer kit” and it fixed our problem.
A while back someone called and asked what she might do with a “lot” of fresh vegetables she had received from a friend. I usually only receive these calls in the summer or fall, not the dead of winter.
I was imagining she had about 10 pounds of vegetables. She said she had over 50 pounds of vegetables, and she wanted to can them because they were starting to “go bad.” Of course my next question was, “Do you have a pressure canner?” She said, “No, but I thought I’d use a boiling water-bath canner.”
We talked about all the reasons why using a water-bath canner is not a safe plan for canning vegetables. “Do you have a dehydrator or a freezer?” I asked. “No, I just have the freezer above my refrigerator.” I could almost see the light bulb above her head. “We do have a giant freezer – outside.”
She had me there. Sometimes our outdoor temperatures are as cold as an ice factory. Other days, we have springlike weather.
So, we talked about blanching and packing vegetables with a little headspace to allow the food to expand during freezing. Granted, storing food outside is not my usual recommendation but she had her heart set on saving these vegetables and there was no neighbor with freezer space nearby. I’m hoping she’ll spring for a freezer soon.
Here are a couple other questions and answers about cold food storage I’ve received in the past:
“What causes freezer burn? Is it safe to eat freezer-burned food?”
“Freezer burn” is a form of dehydration usually caused by improper packaging. The surface moisture has evaporated, and the food may appear lighter in color and “dried out.” While the food is safe to eat, the quality is lower. It often has an “off-flavor.” To avoid freezer burn, package foods carefully in moisture or vapor-resistant packaging before freezing. Mark the packages with the date you placed them in the freezer, and “rotate your stock.” Use the “oldest” food first.
“I left a package of frozen ground beef on my counter overnight. It was pretty cool in the house. Is it safe to eat if I cook it really well?”
Even if it’s cool in your house, it’s not safe to “counter thaw” meat. Bacteria could grow to levels that could cause foodborne illness or produce toxins that cannot be inactivated by any amount of cooking. Meat and other high-protein foods should be thawed in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or lower, microwave oven (followed by immediate cooking) or under cool running water.
To access an on-line “Food Freezing Guide” or “Food Storage Guide” with recommendations for freezing and storing a wide variety of foods, visit this website and search for those titles: www.ag.ndsu.edu/food
Here’s a tasty beverage mix that stays safe in your cupboard and will warm a wintry day.
Hot Spiced Tea
2 c. orange instant breakfast drink mix (such as Tang)
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. instant tea, unsweetened
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 tsp. ground cloves
Mix well. Store in tightly closed container. Add 3 teaspoons to 1 cup hot water and enjoy.
Makes about 56 servings. Each serving has 45 calories, 11 grams carbohydrate, no fat, no protein and about 30 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.