By Julia Millay Walsh
If you get in the habit of using it, your freezer will become your favorite kitchen companion and the answer to your food waste problem. However, if you don’t use it properly, you may be left at the whims of illness-causing bacteria, and your meals won’t taste their best. Read on for a few must-know tips for reheating frozen food.
1. First of all, what constitutes frozen? A freezer temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
2. Bacteria can grow on food within two hours of cooking, so if you’re planning to eat your leftovers, be sure to refrigerate and/or freeze anything you’re not serving promptly.
3. Even if you’ve frozen your leftovers on the day you cooked them, they can still lose flavor and nutrients while frozen. For optimal quality, try to use frozen food within four months. Some foods can be stored for longer (steaks: six to 12 months) and others must be used within a shorter window (bacon and sausage: one to two months). Consult Foodsafety.gov’s storage times chart for more details.
4. Rule of thumb: When you’re reheating leftovers, be it from the fridge or the freezer, you should always make sure they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a food thermometer to verify.
5. Whether you’re reheating in the microwave or on the stovetop, be sure to cover your leftovers. This will seal in heat and help cook the food all the way through.
6. Reheating your extra soup, that Thanksgiving soup, or your homemade tomato sauce? Bring these liquid leftovers to a rolling boil.
7. Frozen food reheats best if it’s thawed first. To do so, use the thaw feature on the microwave, set it in a bowl of cold water, or let it thaw in the refrigerator.
8. Don’t have hours to thaw? You can reheat your leftovers on the stovetop in a pan, the oven, or the microwave without thawing, but it will take longer to reheat, about one-and-a-half times longer.
9. Had a power outage and wondering if your leftovers are still good to freeze?Partially thawed foods are still good to eat at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below—if it still has ice crystals, that’s a good sign. Check the thermometer as soon as you get your power back. Find out what foods you should discard after a power outage.
10. Wound up with an extra pound of meat or poultry you can’t use? It is safe to freeze food in its original packaging. That said, if you’re storing it for a long time, overwrap the package to prevent air from permeating.
11. How about freezer burn? Contrary to popular notion, freezer burn doesn’t actually make your food unsafe, just not delicious, as it may be a little dry. If you don’t want to eat it, just cut away the dry portions.
Visit Foodsafety.gov for more food safety tips.