Should your restaurant be concerned about freezer burns?
It is no secret that freezing food is a crucial procedure in every restaurant kitchen.
It primarily helps meet the food safety aspect of food preparation and serving. Freezing food to 0 °F or -18 °C inactivates any microbes (bacteria, yeasts and moulds) that can be present in them. For example, sub-zero freezing temperatures can destroy Trichina and other parasites.
Another purpose that freezing food serves is that it can affect your profits. Buying perishable foods in bulk is a cost-effective solution as long as you know which items can or cannot be frozen. Freezing slows the enzyme activity within the food that causes it to deteriorate. Therefore you can have items in stock for a more extended period, especially seasonal items. Not only that, since food stored at 0 °F or -18 °C or lower will retain colour, flavour and texture, you can be sure that you will still have them in good quality.
That is if you know some basic principles when freezing food items and avoiding the dreaded – FREEZER BURN.
WHAT IS A FREEZER BURN?
Freezer burn is a condition in which frozen food is dehydrated.
When you keep a food item too long in a frozen state, the water molecules in it are pulled out to the surface. As a result, ice crystal forms on the food surface. This condition happens faster when the frozen food item is exposed to air as a result of improper freezing storage.
But according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), freezer burn does not make food unsafe. If this is the case, do you have to worry about serving food that underwent freezer burn? If your restaurant aims for quality, then preparing food with freezer burn should not even be an option.
How does freezer burn affect the quality of the food you serve and in effect, your restaurant business or food serving operation?
- Dehydrated food can have a distinct metallic flavour or altogether become tasteless. This is a critical point to remember especially for texture and flavour sensitive items such as steaks.
- You can see discolouration in meats. When food is overexposed to air, chemical changes in the food’s pigment happen – red meat turns brown or grey and chicken meat turns darker.
- Vegetables look withered. The appearance of vegetables is hard to mask. Dull looking vegetables are never appetizing.
- It can cause a distinct odour or smell when you open the freezer door. Remember the water molecules that are pulled out from within the food? They contain food odours and overexposure to freezing air forces them to go through sublimation, which is a process that makes something solid be transformed directly into a gas. This odour lingers inside the freezer.
- Freezer burns can lead to unnecessary food waste and loss of profit. Some restaurants and commercial kitchens allow removing the affected area but many will not risk quality and will choose to throw that entire item away.
HOW DO YOU PREVENT FREEZER BURNS?
Limit the food’s exposure to air!
Here are a few tips and practices that your kitchen team should know when it comes to freezing food.
- Know the foods that you can freeze and what you should never.
This should be a basic knowledge known by your kitchen team. Most food items can be frozen, but some items are not ideal for freezing.
- Eggs – The shell of a frozen egg can burst open. Freezing expands any liquid therefore if you accidentally store eggs in the freezer, there is a chance that they will break open. Discard the egg if there are any signs of a crack.
- Puddings, Custards, Besciamella, Creams, Mayonnaise and other emulsions – Though there are ways to restore their characteristics after being frozen know that they tend to separate.
- Gelatin – Once this is frozen, it will no longer retain its original properties.
- Watery vegetables such as cucumbers, lettuce and celery – You will have soggy vegetables when you thaw these.
I will have to remind you that although you can freeze most foods, it doesn’t mean that you should. You have to consider that they can lose their textures.
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- Use the best containers for freezing food
The best containers for freezing ensure that the least amount of air gets to the food.
Freezer bags are made to sustain the harsh temperature, and when used properly, they can provide proper freezing of food. The brand of freezer bag is not as critical as how you use them. It is important that you gently press out the air out as you close it all the way, but even then, this procedure does not guarantee that you get all of the air out. Most restaurants have food vacuum sealers that remove excess air from the bag and collapses it so that the bag wraps around the food item.
Or you can try this hack – slowly lower the freezer bag (with food item) in a pot of cold water, leaving a corner above the water line open and then gently close it as the natural pressure of the water squeezes the air out of the bag.
If you’ll be freezing food for a long time, use extra wrapping. For instance, wrap the freezer bag in aluminium foil or layer additional plastic wraps.
Don’t use glass to freeze your food. Glass doesn’t handle extremely low temperatures well and will break if placed in a freezer. Some brands like Mason, Ball, and Pyrex are made to withstand high heat and cold temperatures, but that doesn’t make them completely foolproof. If it is unavoidable, here’s how to avoid shocking glass and cause it to shatter when you defrost it: Cool your food completely before putting it into the jar and don’t seal the jar super-tightly before putting it away. Because food can expand when it freezes, use wide-mouthed jars without shoulders and leave an inch of space at the top of the jar instead of filling it to the brim.
Sturdy plastic containers are practical since they are reusable. Just make sure that they are freezer-safe, airtight, leak-proof, and clear containers. If you want to ensure sealing, you can put a layer of plastic wrap, parchment, wax paper or foil on the mouth of the container before putting the cover on.
- Check the packaging
When receiving deliveries or purchasing for your stock, your chef of kitchen staff should include packaging inspection to see if there are any holes or damage. If the damage occurred in the confines of your kitchen, ensure proper food storage or double wrap the item so that exposure to air will be prevented. Otherwise, damaged packaging should be a reason not to accept the delivery or purchase it for that matter. Safety first.
- Avoid freezer burns in ice cream
Freezer burns notoriously happen to an opened ice cream container. The water molecules in the ice cream evaporate and are refrozen on the ice cream’s surface, causing ice crystals to form. To avoid this, store the pint upside down and place it in the far back of your freezer. Storing it upside down (check the lid if snug) before refreezing will keep the melted part in the lid area and will not mix in with the rest of the frozen portion. The reason why you should store frozen desserts at the back end of the freezer is to ensure stable temperatures. The further back, the less it is for the ice cream to be exposed to room-temperature air.
- Ensure that your refrigeration equipment is working properly
Make sure that your freezer is able to keep your food items frozen. Test it by putting a freezer thermometer inside to make sure it’s reading 0 °F or -18 °C or below. If it isn’t, turn down the dial until the internal temp is at or below 0 °F or -18 °C. This is a must for long-term storage of frozen foods. This is also important if you experience power-out or mechanical problems. Cold items stay cold longer until electrical power is restored.
RELATED READ: How To Manage Your Restaurant In Case of a Power Outage
Healthwise, freezer-burned food is not an issue, but as food business owners, the quality of the food you serve should also be a priority. You may not send anyone to the hospital but you may get negative feedback with a lousy dish. Freezer burns are preventable, especially with skilled kitchen staff who understands that unacceptable shortcuts can be detrimental to your business. Make sure your kitchen team know these procedures by heart and practice them with or without supervision.
That’s it for this week.
As always, Professional Chefs on Call at Anytime!
Ciao for now,