We all want the best for our families, and we want the most bang for our buck so it’s important to know when it makes the most sense to buy fresh or frozen produce. How Fresh Is It?
When you have access to a farmer’s market, you can be fairly certain that everything has been picked fresh, but there are no such guarantees in the grocery store. The main reason is that there is a lag time between food harvesting, packing, shipping and delivery to the store. Because of this delay between the farm and the consumer, produce is picked before it is ripe. Often, by the time food reaches the consumer it is no longer fresh and has lost some nutrients. For foods that are seasonal, frozen will be a better bet because the “fresh” ones in the produce aisle will have to have come from halfway around the world.
When a lab tested the nutrients in fresh vs frozen food, it found that the levels in vegetables were nearly the same. The fresh ones had slightly higher levels of calcium and potassium while the frozen ones were higher in Vitamin C.
The Crystal Method
When food is going to be processed and frozen, it is harvested at the peak of ripeness. Immediately after picking, the processors blanch it quickly in hot water to kill bacteria. Blanching also kills enzymes that cause the food to change color and texture. Newer technology allows food to be frozen very quickly, preventing the formation of large ice crystals which damage the cells in fruits and vegetables. Sometimes after the food has been packaged it moves along a conveyor belt and is blasted with frigid air or bathed in a liquid refrigerant. These advanced techniques mean that the quality of the frozen food is still incredibly high when it thaws. Food, like avocados, bananas, and cucumbers, that was once considered unfreezable, because of the condition it was in upon defrosting, can now be frozen with terrific results. When fish is frozen at sea, the nutrients and flavor are locked in just hours after it is caught.
Reducing Food Waste
In commercial kitchens, chefs have embraced the high quality frozen goods because they save time and money, while minimizing food spoiling and going into the trash. Most fresh produce is very close to its expiration date by the time it reaches us so there is a huge amount of waste in restaurants where they can only serve really great looking vegetables.
Food doesn’t keep forever in the freezer. For best results, buy vacuum sealed meats and fish and keep your freezer set at 0F. For every 5 degrees above zero, the recommended storage time is lowered by half. Beef and lamb can be stored for 12 months, chicken, pork and vegetables for six months, seafood for only three months.
Freezing does not kill all bacteria though it does slow or stop it’s growth while frozen. Improper defrosting can allow the bacteria present to multiply to dangerous levels. This is a serious problem with food that is not going to be heated, like cooked, ready to eat food. Food should never be left out on the counter to defrost. The safest way is to leave food in the refrigerator to thaw or quickly defrost in the microwave. For best results in the microwave, avoid the defrost programs. Cook on high for 30 second intervals, turning the food over each time.
Jennifer Hawkins is a professional chef and writer who loves to write about how to best utilize frozen foods. She blogs quite often and usually covers topics related to serving quick and easy dinners.
Photo Credit: I-5 Design & Manufacture