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Freezing and Thawing Tips

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Frozen meat, poultry, seafood and other perishable products can be a way to trim food costs and extend inventory. Freezing food with the proper techniques can help lock in quality and flavor. And while food is safe indefinitely while frozen, thawing frozen items should be done with food safety best practices to ensure it remains safe. Perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter, or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. Thawing frozen foods requires planning ahead as it can take hours or even days to safely complete a thorough thaw.

Freezing Tips

When done correctly, the moisture content will remain within 2-3% variance of the original state.

  • Optimal freezing temperature is 0 degrees

  • Shelf life in the freezer is approximately 1 year

  • Break down into portion sizes and individually wrap each portion in plastic. Place portions in a resealable freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible, ideally with vacuum sealing, and lay flat before sealing and freezing. Assume that the product will lose about 2-3% of its weight, so gauge accordingly.

  • Be sure to label and date all products before freezing. When aging label with the original fresh product, age date as well. Keep a record of the box code in the event of a product safety withdrawal or recall.

  • Maximize air circulation around the beef by removing product form the box and laying on a wire rack or shelves.

There could be labeling implications if your restaurant claims fresh never frozen or always fresh. Be sure to check for these claims.

Thawing Tips

Two food-safe thawing methods are described below.

Refrigerator Thawing

  • Planning ahead is the key to this method because of the lengthy time involved. According to the USDA, a large frozen item like a turkey requires at least a day (24 hours) for every 5 pounds of weight. Even small amounts of frozen food — such as a pound of ground meat or boneless chicken breasts — require a full day to thaw and could take up to 3-5 days. Food should be kept between 35-38 degrees.

  • After thawing in the refrigerator, items such as ground meat, stew meat, poultry, seafood, should remain safe and good quality for an additional day or two before cooking; red meat cuts (such as beef, pork or lamb roasts, chops and steaks) 3 to 5 days. Food thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, although there may be some loss of quality.

Cold Water Thawing

  • This method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. The food must be in a leakproof package or plastic bag. The bag is essential so that the food remains free of surrounding bacteria and also retains the quality and flavor of the food. The water should not go above 41 degrees and should not set out for longer for 4 hours.

  • The bag should be submerged in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw. Small packages of meat, poultry or seafood – about a pound – may thaw in an hour or less. A 3- to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours. For whole turkeys, estimate about 30 minutes per pound. If thawed completely, the food must be cooked immediately. Foods thawed by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.

You will lose more moisture and the texture will change if the product is refrozen, so be sure to thaw only the needed amount.

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