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Is That Turkey (And Other Food In Your Freezer) Really Good For You?

Updated on November 14, 2011
This freezer is full.  Will the great foods it holds be eaten while they are colorful, nutritious, and healthy? depends.
This freezer is full. Will the great foods it holds be eaten while they are colorful, nutritious, and healthy? depends. | Source
Turkeys taste great from my oven.  The leftovers taste good, too.  If we tire of a steady diet of turkey, we may freeze some for later.  But, how long will it be "as good as new," and when will it expire?
Turkeys taste great from my oven. The leftovers taste good, too. If we tire of a steady diet of turkey, we may freeze some for later. But, how long will it be "as good as new," and when will it expire? | Source

The fascination with freezers....

32%% of American households have one or more freezers, according to the most recent figures. Other Americans have foods in a rented freezer locker, especially for a period of time when hunters have game meats to preserve, or home gardeners have a surplus harvest. The refrigerator/freezer may have been counted only as a refrigerator in compiling the freezers statistic, but it is clear that many American households have some freezer capacity for storing and freezing their frozen foods.

Some of those households include the bargain shoppers.who well know that before the traditional Thanksgiving holiday in America. the price for frozen turkeys fluctuates. They know what I know. After Thanksgiving the price per pound for frozen domestic turkeys has tended down where I shop, and bargain shoppers buy some after Thaksgiving to store in their freezer for when the family memory of roast turkey, left over roast turkey, turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, and the last turkey stuffing memory has faded into nostalgia enough to sneak turkey back into the day's menu. There is not only the Law of Supply and Demand at work in this pricing fluctuation. The quality of the frozen turkey, according to some experts, can't be counted on for more than six months, even when frozen in good, fresh condition, and kept clean and healthy during processing before continuous storage at 0 F. (-18 C.)---or lower. A lower price per pound following Thanksgiving may come from grocers and suppliers clearing the seasonal over-supply of frozen turkey, aware as they are of a frozen turkey's "freezer-life".

This "freezer life" factor refers to the period during which any frozen food will deliver the color, nutrition, and texture we have a right to expect.

If you think foods in a properly maintained freezer will keep for about 12 months, you are right., if you are thinking about the following general foods: Most Vegetables, Non-citrus Fruits, Fruit Cakes (that other seasonal foodstuff some consider to be a"turkey"!), Candy, and yes, that frozen turkey and other poultry.

"General foods!" you ask? What about bread, fruit juice, potatoes, gravy, hamburger, pie, and ice cream? Well, you asked for it, and you're in for a surprise!

Bread comes in a wide variety, and its freezer-life depends on the type of bread. If it has yeast, and is meant to be baked later, the recomended freezer-life at zero degrees Fahrenheit is just two weeks! If the bread is something like dumplings, pancakes, cornbread, etc. that you are saving for the future, the future should be no more than two months away!

Potatoes and frozen juices are good for eight months in the freezer. Most gravy is good for two months. Hamburger should be good for up to four months. Pies keep one month, if baked, but three months if unbaked. That old standby of everyone's favorite freezer storage: ice cream? Try 30 days, and that goes for ice milk and sherbet, too.

Let's look for just a second at some examples of items with the short freezer-life period of just one month: Cottage Cheese, Milk, Cured Pork, Cooked Vegetables, Pizza, and Sandwiches (though skip the mayonnaise, and skip the lettuce! Mayonnaise separates at freezer temperatures, and lettuce wilts and changes color.)

Why is there this wide variation in freezer-life? The fact is: freezing foods does not sterilize them. Freezing simply retards the growth of the already present enzymes, yeasts, bacteria, and molds that can change the color, texture, nutritive values, and even the safety of the frozen foods.

What are the real dangers? None, if you just remember that precisely followed freezer preparations, and maintenance of the zero (or lower) temperature of the freezer, will prevent food-borne disease. Nonetheless, pay attention to freezer-life.

The alternative is not attractive according to what I was told by Dr. Joseph Veltri, a nationally recognized toxicologist who, at the time, was with the Intermountain Poison Control Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dr. Veltri said: "Edible substances will not break down into toxic substances, unless bacteria already in a contaminated substance are given a period of warm enough temperatures to allow them to grow and develop toxicity. In most cases of poisoning from frozen foods, the culprit is the way the food is handled before and after it is removed from the freezer.

"Turkeys, for example, are notorious because we take unnecessary chances thawing them at room temperature, stuffing and cooking them. The temperatures in the stuffing never get high enough to kill the salmonella which got its start during the thawing period.

"Cooking a turkey safely depends on planning ahead so as to thaw the frozen turkey in the refrigerator and not at room temperatures.

"Deer meat and other game meats are also a special area of concern. Our nation's slaughterhouses would be bankrupt, if they handled publicly sold meats the way some hunters handle their game meats.

"Again the problem is not the freezer, but rather it is the combination of improper handling during the process of getting the game out of the woods, and improper thawing, again at room temperatures that let the toxins develop.

"Some fish, notoriously the tuna and mackerel family of fish, develop bacteria on their skins after they are caught and exposed to the air and sun. Freezer temperatures will not kill that bacteria and it remains contaminated and a source of illness.

"It is worth repeating again: warmer than recommended temperatures, and the way foods are handled and processed before and after freezing are the real factors in having safe frozen foods."

In practically every state in the United States, free or inexpensive brochures are available to detail freezer-life, proper freezing methods, rotation of foods, and proper maintenance and protection of your frozen food supply. Such information can also be obtained by contacting the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service's regional centers in Burlington, MA; Atlanta, GA; Dallas, TX; San Francisco, CA; Trenton, NJ; Chicago, IL; and, in Denver, CO.

An excellent publication"Canning, Freezing, Storing Garden Produce" is the USDA's Information Bulletin 410 and costs about $3.95 (US) for 90 pages with photos and charts.

The literal blue book: "Blue Book, The Guide to Home Canning and Freezing" is available for about $6.50 from Ball Corporation, Box 2005, Muncie, IN 47302 with 128 pages, color charts, and recipes.

You may not need to go that far for basic tips on keeping good foods good, and frozen. If the freezer came with a manual, the surprises above may be just enough to encourage you to give it another glance. It will be loaded with good information.

If you bought the freezer second or third-hand, check the make and model number and see what your local dealer can do to help you get a suitable manual. Fine dust on key parts of your freezer can shut it down. A good manual can save you from having many dollars worth of spoiled foods (or unnecessary repairs) by helping you know where, when, and how to clean those parts properly.

If your freezer does shut down (for any reason), have the location and number of a dry ice supplier handy, and count on using gloves to put in up to 50 pounds of dry ice per 20 cubic feet of freezer space. The dry ice should not directly touch the frozen foods, but should be separated from them by boards, thick cardboard, a small rug, or similar material.

Dr. Brian Nummer, Extension Service Food Safety Specialist at Utah State University adds: "Once frozen, microbes cannot grow, but once thawed they grow again. Also, the shelf life of frozen foods has a lot to do with air and the frozen foods exposure to oxygen. Oxidation and freezer burn dramatically reduce the quality shelf life of frozen foods.

Wrapping a temporarily inoperable freezer in blankets, keeping the door or lid closed, and resorting to dry ice, can give you a significant time cushion to save your frozen foods. Saving the quality of your frozen foods is what it's all about! A comprehensive, alphabetical chart on the freezer -ife of your frozen foods can be found by doing a comprehensive "Search" for "freezer-life" and you will even be able to find a form for keeping track of what you have available in your freezer and how its shelf life is doing.

Here's to you, and yours, and to your happy, safe, eating of good looking, good tasting, nutritious foods throughout the years to come.

© This work is licensed under a Creative Comments Attribution-No Derivs 3.0 United States License

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    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 5 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      It's that "throw the stuff in the freezer" time again. including the stuffing. How do we make sure that we get nutrition from what we have saved? How long is it nourishing? What keeps frozen and nutritious the best? These are some of the things I considered here. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 6 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      If you are like one in three American households, you have a freezer. If you are like most freezer owners, you know to save and stock good foods frozen there. But, do you know how to get the most out of the freezer and your efforts?


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