Frozen foods: Three big questions

Do frozen foods have the same nutrition as fresh food?

March is nutrition month, but did you know hidden within the first few days of March is the little known holiday “National Frozen Food Day?” March 6 is forever a true national day of recognition and celebration as proclaimed in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan.

What do you know about the history of frozen food? In 1923, a man named Clarence Birdseye gathered an electric fan, salt and several blocks of ice in hopes of learning how to freeze food. Birdseye experimented until he had perfected the idea of packaging food into waxed boxes. General Foods Corporation purchased the Birdseye patents and trademarks in 1929 and the public was introduced to frozen foods the following year.

What do you know about frozen foods? They are certainly convenient and it seems there is always something new in the frozen food department at the store, so choices are many. Michigan State University Extension offices receive many food questions related to frozen foods. One of the most popular questions is related to weather. A storm knocks out power and the question is, “How long will my food stay frozen in the freezer?” Obviously the warmth of spring and summer is more of a threat to frozen foods, but don’t get comfortable even if the outdoor temperature is below freezing. Keep a thermometer in your freezer at all times to help you determine the safety of your food. A great resource is a fact sheet from the USDA on freezing and food safety. If raw meats thaw and are still below 40 degrees Fahrenheit you can cook the meat and return it to the freezer. Do not re-freeze. Don’t rely on the appearance or odor of a food to determine if it is safe and never taste a food if you aren’t sure if it is safe, you could become very ill.

Keeping your frozen foods as safe as possible also means not stuffing the freezer so full that each time you open the door something hits the floor. Label items to include not only what is inside, but include the date of freezing and just like the refrigerator and your cupboards, use the rule of “last in first out.” Do keep the freezer as full as possible to not waste electricity.

A second question that gets a lot of attention has to do with the actual nutrition of frozen foods. Frequently asked is, “Do I get less nutrition from frozen foods?” The answer is no, we do not receive less nutrition from frozen food versus fresh. There are a number of reasons why vegetables from the freezer have just as much value as fresh vegetables if not more, depending on where the food comes from. If you have a garden, it doesn’t get fresher and you receive optimum nutrition. Fresh vegetables in the store may have been picked before they were fully ripe in order to be shipped long distances. When picked before fully ripe, not all nutrients have had a chance to fully develop. On the other hand, food picked at the peak of ripeness and immediately frozen hold their nutrients.

A third popular question is about food preservation and freezing. One of the most reliable resources for food preservation is the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Their book, “So Easy to Preserve” is heralded across the United States as the go-to source for freezing and canning. Another highly recommended site is the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Both these resources offer a wealth of information of every aspect of preserving food.

How will you celebrate Frozen Food Day? When March 6 comes around check out the frozen delights found deep within your freezer, a succulent chicken breast with a side of steamed broccoli, a 100 percent whole grain dinner roll and a serving of mixed berries for dessert. Happy Frozen Food Day!

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