FRESH OR FROZEN? 

RETHINKING THE WAY WE FEED OUR FAMILY.

Much has changed in the way we create, process and deliver commercially-available food. The widely-held view that ‘fresh is best’ and frozen is a poor second is no longer true. It is surprising that it was only recently that this ‘fact’ has been seriously challenged.  


The argument in favor of frozen over fresh is backed by science, something that many dedicated ‘foodies’ have known for a long time.  


So let us look at the situation to understand why the myth has persisted, and why it is time to embrace a new reality.


Here are some of the most common frozen food myths, and the arguments to throw them in the trash. 


Myth #1: Fresh food is healthier than frozen food


Frozen food can be more nutritious than fresh food. The reason is that fresh food is often picked before the fruit or vegetable is ripe. While it is in its less optimal condition, it is packaged, shipped and stocked. It could take days or even weeks from the time it is harvested to the time it reaches your plate. The food will most likely lose many of its nutrients during that interval. Food scientists tell us that fresh foods typically lose most of their nutrients—vitamins and minerals in particular—in the three days after picking. By contrast, frozen food is harvested at peak ripeness and flash-frozen within hours, preserving most of their nutrients.


As far as the science is concerned, a 2013 University of Georgia study looked at the level of nutrients in fresh and frozen food at the time of purchase and five days later. The day they’re purchased, both frozen and fresh foods are nutritionally similar. After five days in the fridge, the fresh had less vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate than the frozen.


This was also backed by Dr Michelle Hauser of the Harvard Medical School and a certified chef and nutrition educator. “Frozen is a great, healthy alternative to fresh, especially if your fresh produce isn’t so fresh anymore.”  


Myth #2: All frozen food is high in sodium


There was a time when this was true, but that was at least a decade ago before technology caught up with the frozen food industry.   


Today, with growing demand from health-conscious consumers, many food manufacturers have changed their practices. They are routinely creating menus that champion low-calorie, low-sodium foods that are full of vegetables, grains, and lean proteins.


Don’t take our word for it. Scan nutrition labels and you are likely to see low sodium totals in line with recommendations by food scientists. The rule is, if you don’t see sodium or sodium chloride on the label, all the salt comes from the food in the meal.


Myth #3: Refreezing previously-frozen food is bad


Food thawed properly can be refrozen. By that we mean, frozen foods that were thawed in the fridge and not on the counter can be returned to the freezer. Otherwise, throw it out. No exceptions. It is not healthy. The reason is that when food sits in the ‘danger zone (40°F - 140°F) for more than two hours, it attracts bacteria. At this temperature, bacteria grow rapidly and anyone consuming it could get sick. Please do not take that chance. 


We are not fans of refreezing frozen food even if it was thawed properly the first time. One reason is that refreezing can compromise texture and flavor.  


Myth #4: Frozen food expires


It is an urban myth to believe that frozen food has a ‘use-by’ date. It doesn’t. According to FoodSafety.gov food can be saved indefinitely as long as it is stored at 0°F or below without exception. 


The truth is, most people are not great at storing foods in the freezer properly. Under those circumstances, there is a window during which food is at its highest quality. For a list of recommended times for the refrigerator and freezer, go to https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/cold-food-storage-charts 


Myth #5: You can’t freeze eggs


Whole eggs cannot be frozen, because the shell is likely to crack as the egg expands during the freezing process. In that case, expect a mess when it thaws.


But you can freeze eggs. If you have excess, crack the eggs and beat the yolk and whites together. Then you can freeze them for future use. Egg yolks on their own don’t freeze well. You will compromise texture, although it is perfectly safe. 


Myth #6: Frozen food is more expensive


If you want to buy one potato to make French fries, it is clear that you will pay less than if you buy a pack of frozen chips. However, over the long term, it is cheaper to buy the pack and store it. You do the math, but what you will get is product consistency and availability at your finger tips. And choice.


Frozen fruit and vegetables have one very big advantage over fresh. If you are hankering for a winter fruit in summer, or a spring vegetable in the fall, frozen produce picked at peak-of-season is there for the taking. Also, they are likely to be healthier because they will be flash-frozen hours after being picked. They will also be less expensive than takeout or delivery.  


Myth #7: Freezing food kills bacteria


Studies have shown that bacteria is most active between 40°F and 140°F, but it doesn’t die below 40°F. Instead, it becomes inactive. Colder temperatures do not eliminate the risk of any bacteria that might have been present when food is placed in the freezer.


Be mindful that you need to keep foods safe from bacterial growth when you thaw them. The way to do that is to defrost them in the refrigerator, not on the counter or in the sink.


Food safety is just as critical when packing foods for the freezer. Wash your hands, always maintain clean surfaces, and try not to cross-contaminate between surfaces.   


Myth #8: All frozen food is highly processed


Once upon a time, this might have been true. Today, however, you can find healthy choices that are minimally processed and close to their natural state hiding out in the frozen section.


Read food labels before you purchase. Look for any unnecessary preservatives or additives, and put it back if you find them. Enough natural foods companies have innovated ways to freeze their foods without those unnecessary ingredients—freezing is itself a preservation technique—so you can find healthy, minimally-processed foods if you look.


Myth #9: It’s too late to freeze by “sell by” dates


“Sell by” and “use by” dates should not be taken as gospel. Food will not turn bad at the stroke of midnight. These are a useful guide, but no more than that. One purpose is to let stockers know it is time to rotate their inventory—or to mark it down for a quick sale. If your food reaches either of these dates before you’ve had a chance to eat it, you can freeze it.


The “sell by” date generally means when the food has reached its optimum quality. Freezing it at this point may reduce the quality, but it is still perfectly safe to freeze now for consumption later. It is important to ensure it is packaged properly for the best storage.


Myth #10: Packaged foods can go straight into the freezer


Most foods you buy at the grocery store are meant to be eaten fresh, not for frozen storage. If you plan to freeze them, you need to prepare them with proper storage techniques. As an example, meat wrappers let a small amount of air into the package, which invites bacteria and air into the packages. The quality of the food could quickly deteriorate when it thaws.


The best advice is to un-package and rewrap everything you plan to freeze in freezer-safe bags or wraps. Remove as much air as possible before you put the food into the freezer. In this case, air is the enemy.


If you are freezing vegetables, we strongly recommend an extra step: blanch plant foods before you freeze them. And thoroughly dry them as well. Water on the skin of a vegetable invites bacteria, freezer burn, and sogginess when it thaws. You should also wash fruit before freezing. There is a risk that fruit may be too soft to wash when it thaws, so it is nice to know it is clean before you eat it.


Learn more about Tummy-Thyme® Organic Toddler Meal Delivery.