We’ve all been there, scanning the grocery store aisles, filling up our cart when we get to the frozen section. Most shoppers are savvy enough to know to grab their frozen items towards the end of their shopping trip, so those items will have less time to melt on the way home. But there’s actually a lot more to buying frozen foods than it may seem. Below are some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your frozen purchases.
Part of the appeal of buying frozen food is that they often come in larger sizes and will theoretically last you longer, but make sure to read the packaging carefully. Many shoppers assume that frozen products have a nearly-infinite shelf life, while in fact some items (like certain meats) will only stay good for a month or two, even when left undisturbed in the freezer. It’s fine to buy in bulk, as long as you’re keeping track of how long you have to consume your products so you don’t end up throwing most of it away when it goes bad.
Here’s another tip: when buying frozen fruits or vegetables, make sure the bag doesn’t feel like it contains big clumps of ice or worse, one solid, frozen lump. You should be able to feel the individual pieces of fruit or vegetables moving freely in the package, or be able to easily break apart smaller clumps by gently slapping the bag against a surface. The contents being stuck together in a frozen glob is a sign that the package thawed and was re-frozen. Aside from potential losses in flavor and texture from the food’s exposure to water, defrosted and re-frosted vegetables actually retain fewer vitamins according to Sarah Krieger, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
However, keep in mind that a minority of frozen products will be “block frozen” and it will say so on the packaging. For the most part though, fruits and veggies that come in bundles will be labeled Individually Quick Frozen (IQF), and those you’ll want to make sure aren’t frozen together.
Another sign that a package has been thawed and refrozen is puffing and bloating of the container. Basically, as the microbes in the food begin to go bad, they turn to gas and make the package swell up. So stick to products that still look tightly and crisply sealed on the shelf.
Grocery stores also often use waist-high open-air freezers for easy access to popular items. Most of these freezers have a secret “load line”, below which point frozen food is being kept at its appropriate temperature. To be safe, never pick items from the top of the stack, and always reach down to the products nearer to the bottom, as these are more likely to be frozen at their proper temperature.
To keep your frozen foods as fresh as possible for as long as possible, consider transferring the items into air-tight, resealable bags when you get home. Not only will you save space in your freezer, but without the extra air in the packaging, there’s no risk of condensation forming on the inside to create freezer burn or frost.
If you do tend to worry about freshness, there’s usually a phone number and code on the packaging you can call to find out when the product was produced.
Buying frozen food is a great way to save time, money, and energy when preparing meals. But it’s important to keep in mind the details that can make or break your enjoyment of the item when you open it at home. Remember: just because it comes in ice, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look twice!