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In terms of supply shortages, the COVID-19 pandemic has created more than runs on hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, and toilet paper. As the crisis wears on, it continues to disrupt our food supply. As food distributors struggle to adjust, many shoppers are encountering sparse racks of meat, eggs, and produce.
And these changes in supply and demand have led to price increases. In April, grocery prices made their largest one-month price jump—an overall 2.6 percent increase—since 1974. American shoppers paid an average of 4.3 percent more for meat, poultry, fish, and eggs in April. Prices for cereals and baked goods increased by 2.9 percent, and fruit and vegetable prices went up 1.5 percent.
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What can you do to maintain an adequate food supply for your family, and how can you take advantage of any sales on fresh food? One answer is to utilize your freezer.
We’ve made an alphabetical list of grocery staples that store well in the freezer. A few of them might surprise you.
1. Bread — Double wrapping is the key to keeping your bread fresh in the freezer. First, wrap a loaf in plastic wrap. Then wrap it again in freezer paper or foil. Another idea is to slice your bread before freezing so that you can remove the slices you need without thawing the whole loaf. Bread freezes well for several months.
2. Butter — Butter freezes well right in its store wrapping. If you prefer, you can wrap it in foil or plastic freezer wrap. Frozen salted butter will last for up to 12 months, and unsalted butter will freeze well for six months.
3. Cheese — The texture of block cheese changes a bit after freezing, so it’s best to grate it first and place the desired portions in airtight freezer bags. Hard and semi-hard cheese (such as parmesan, cheddar, and mozzarella) are better bets for freezing than soft cheeses.
4. Fruits — The techniques for freezing fruits varies according to the item. Generally, the appearance and texture of fruits are altered by freezing, but the defrosted fruits can be used in purees, sauces, desserts, and smoothies. Consider freezing juice separately in ice cube trays for later use.
Tip: Frozen whole grapes are a great as-is summertime snack. Spread washed and dried grapes on a baking tray and freeze them overnight. Then store frozen grapes in an airtight bag.
5. Chocolate — Chocolate will change somewhat in appearance and taste after freezing, but it is still good for baking and cooking. For best results, wrap chocolate in freezer bags and chill it in the refrigerator for a few hours first. Then place the bag in the freezer.
6. Cookie Dough — You can freeze your cookie dough for homemade goodness later without all the work. Scoop the dough in cookie-sized portions onto a baking sheet and freeze overnight. Wrap frozen dough in plastic wrap and place it in a freezer bag. You can bake the frozen dough as is by adding one to two minutes to the normal baking time.
7. Cream — Whipping cream loses its ability to be whipped after freezing, but you can use it for sauces and other recipes. You can store the cream in the freezer for several months.
8. Eggs — You can’t freeze eggs in their shells, but you can freeze the whites and yolks in their own separated airtight containers for up to a year.
Tip: Unfortunately, hard-boiled eggs do not freeze well. They become rubbery.
9. Flour — You can store flour in an airtight container in the freezer for a year or more.
10. Herbs — Finely chop your fresh herbs, such as parsley and cilantro, and place them in ice cube trays. Cover each cube with a thin layer of olive oil and freeze. When cubes are frozen, cover tray with plastic wrap. You can place frozen cubes directly in soups, stews, and casseroles as you are cooking, or defrost them as needed.
11. Hummus — Place hummus in an airtight container and cover with a thin layer of olive oil, seal, and freeze. For best results, thaw it in the fridge for about 24 hours and stir well before serving. Hummus freezes well for about four months.
12. Milk — Milk expands when frozen, so be sure to leave room in the container. Thaw frozen milk in the fridge and use it within three days. The milk’s consistency will have changed after freezing. Stir or shake well before using in baking or cooking.
13. Meat — You can store fresh meats for up to a year in the freezer, according to the USDA. Wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap or freezer paper and then place it in an airtight container or freezer bag. Cured deli meats also freeze well. The ones with the lowest water content, such as sausage and bologna, have the best results. Deli ham, turkey, and chicken may be damp after defrosting.
Tip: Freeze bacon in serving size portions between pieces of waxed paper and store them in a freezer bag. Thaw in the fridge.
14. Nuts — When you store nuts in the freezer, it prevents spoilage from their natural oils that occurs at room temperature. Wrap nuts well in plastic and then store them in an airtight container.
15. Pasta — Dry pasta has a long shelf life, but what about cooked pasta? You can store it in the freezer in freezer bags or airtight containers for several months. Toss eight ounces of cooked pasta with a tablespoon of olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking together in the freezer.
16. Rice And Other Grains — Like pasta, uncooked rice stores well in the pantry. You can store leftover cooked rice in the freezer in airtight containers. Rice and other grains (such as quinoa, barley, and bulger) that have been frozen are best used in casseroles or soups. If you’ve cooked a big batch, freeze the grains in portion-sized freezer bags.
17. Seafood And Fish — Freeze fresh seafood on a cookie sheet so that pieces don’t stick together. Wrap portions in freezer paper and place them in a freezer bag. Freezing methods vary depending on the type of shellfish. Most fresh shellfish can be frozen with good results for three to six months.
18. Stock — You can freeze vegetable, poultry, or beef stock in batches either in ice cube tray cubes or flat in freezer bags.
19. Tomato Paste — Many recipes call for just a tablespoon of tomato paste. What do you do with the rest of the contents? Remove paste from the can, and freeze by tablespoon portions in an ice cube tray or dropped onto a cookie sheet overnight. Then wrap each portion in plastic wrap and store them in a freezer bag or airtight container.
20. Tomato Sauce — Pour cooled pasta sauce into airtight containers, seal and freeze for up to 18 months. Due to its high water content, tomato sauce expands, so it’s a good idea fill containers only about three-fourths of the way.
Tip: If you’re not a wine drinker, but you sometimes add wine to pasta sauce recipes, you can freeze wine. Simply pour wine into sections of an ice cube tray and freeze. Pop the frozen cubes into your sauces as you cook.
21. Vegetables — Like fruits, vegetables vary quite a bit when it comes to freezing techniques. Some, such as just-picked corn on the cob, can be frozen as is (husk and all) in a freezer bag. Many veggies can be frozen successfully through the blanching process.
Basic blanching involves boiling vegetables for up to five minutes, placing them in ice water for about 10 minutes, draining them well, and packing them in airtight containers. Also, like fruits, some veggies change in appearance and texture after freezing but are still suitable for use in many recipes.
Tip: Ginger stores well in the freezer and frozen ginger is easier to grate than fresh ginger. Wrap it whole or in one-inch pieces and place it in a freezer bag. Replace what’s left in the freezer for later use. Garlic is another good bet. Freeze the entire head and just pull off cloves as you need them.
22. Yogurt — Like many dairy products, freezing changes yogurt’s texture. You may not want to eat defrosted yogurt as is, but it works very well in smoothies and sauces. For best results, freeze unopened yogurt in its original container. If the container has been opened, give the contents a stir and wrap the lid with foil before placing it in the freezer.
- The quicker you freeze an item, the better the results.
- Place items you want to store in the coldest part of the freezer. Putting them on the door or near the front allows more ice crystals to form, damaging the food’s texture.
- The USDA recommends three safe ways to defrost food: in the fridge, under cold water, or in the microwave. The best option is overnight in the refrigerator.
- A full freezer is less expensive and more efficient to run than a partially full one. Consider placing half-full plastic bottles of water to fill in empty spaces.
- Properly wrapping and using airtight containers helps prevent freezer burn.
- Place labels with contents and date on items you freeze. Go by the “when in doubt, throw it out’ rule for safety.
- An icy freezer cannot work properly. Defrost your freezer if ice starts building up. Most foods will remain frozen in the fridge or a tightly-closed cooler for a few hours while the freezer defrosts.
- If the power goes out, keep the freezer door shut. Foods should remain frozen in the undisturbed freezer for about 24 hours.
The USDA estimates that Americans waste as much as 30 percent of the food they buy. Depending on the individual item, freezing can extend food freshness, while maintaining most of its nutrition, for many months.
With all the changes going on in our economy, it’s time to look more to freezing food as a way to save money and keep our family stocked in essential menu items.
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