JUDY: We've worked hard in our gardens to raise fresh and tasty fruits and vegetables and herbs. Or maybe we've made trips to the farmers market. Everything is perfect and delicious right now. But wouldn't it be great to enjoy the fruits of our labor next winter? We can do that. I'm Judy Wagley--this is “From the Ground Up!” Kara Lynch is a registered dietitian and food safety educator from Michigan State University Extension in Isabella County. She can help! Thanks so much for joining me today.
KARA: Thank you for having me.
JUDY: Kara, I think since the dawn of time, people have been figuring out ways to successfully store and preserve their food. Fortunately, now we have tools and gadgets to freeze and can and dehydrate our own food. And we have experts like you to help! What are some advantages of preserving our own food?
KARA: I think that varies depending a little bit on who you ask. But a big advantage is, having it throughout the whole year, and having accessibility to that. Preserving food at its peak ripeness and nutritional value is a huge advantage. I grew up in a family of preservers. And so I also learned a lot from my mother and my grandmothers, and made a lot of great memories that way. So for me, it kind of holds a special place in my heart as well, as far as that goes. But I think, you know, being able to, if you if you have a large bounty of green beans, for example, you know, can those when you can or freeze them, and we can enjoy them throughout the whole year.
JUDY: Yes. And you also know just where they came from.
KARA: Right—and you can control what goes into that. Yes, that's true. I am a dietitian. And I often talk to people who are on sodium restrictions. So sodium isn't something for most items, unless it's a pickling recipe that you have to insert or include in your recipe for freezing or for canning, so you can control some of your ingredients.
JUDY: Well, as far as food preservation, there's so much to cover. So how about today we talk about freezing. And then next week we'll talk about canning Is that okay?
KARA: That sounds great
JUDY: Advantages to freezing as far as food quality and nutrition?
KARA: Freezing is nice because you can have limited or no heat treatment before it goes into the freezer. Therefore, you're not destroying any of the nutrients really before it goes into the freezer, and that nutrition is retained throughout the freezing. Now of course it can decline over time; that's why we do have recommendations to consume those foods usually within six to 12 months of being frozen. But the nutritional value is still very good.
JUDY: And with freezing, you don't need special equipment.
KARA: You don't need it-- you can certainly get away without it. Now there is some equipment that is helpful especially if you're doing a large amount of something or if it needs blanching, there is some equipment that can make that easier.
JUDY: Kara, some basic do's and don'ts for freezing?
KARA: The first step with any type of preservation or even before we just are consuming food for the first time, is making sure we're picking produce that is good quality. We don't want to have diseased produce, especially when we're preserving it. We also don't want it to be in its last leg, we want it to preserve it at its peak. Blanching is something that you generally have to do with almost all of your vegetables. We don't have to blanch fruits. In addition to vegetables, where most of them need to be blanched--there are some that don't. Peppers, onions, tomatoes, for example, don't require blanching, you can put those directly into the freezer. And fruits I mentioned don't need to be blanched either. Blueberries are actually one of the fruits that do not require washing. It's our only produce that does not require or is not recommended to wash prior to freezing. And the reason is because it can make the skin more tough. So it's not a safety issue. It's just kind of more of a quality issue. If you have washed them before you put them in the freezer. There's no harm done. But maybe you want to think twice about doing it next time. Blanching vegetables is something that some people overlook. Now, that doesn't mean the food is going to be unsafe to eat, but it can affect the quality. So I've had people tell me that they just put their green beans for example, right in the freezer. There's not a safety concern with that. But if you don't blanch and follow those recommendations, then it might have a different texture. So to make it more desirable, you would want to follow those blanching recommendations.
JUDY: And blanching is a quick dip in some boiling water for the recommended amount of time depending on what you're freezing?
KARA: It is. And it varies for all vegetables. You can steam blanch, or you can water bath, boil water bath. Blanch something and that time is dependent on you know what type of vegetable you're blanching and then what method you're doing, whether it's steam or boiling water. So make sure that you find out what that blanch time is. And then a lot of people also don't follow that quick-cool step that follows that. So if it recommends broccoli is typically a three minute blanch time for boiling water. So if you boil water blanch it for three minutes, then you immediately want to remove it and immerse it into ice, an ice water bath. And that's so that you're stopping the cooking from happening, we don't really want to cook our vegetables, we just want to kind of shock them and blanch them. So we're softening some of those fibers that are within those vegetables, and getting them to that right quality that they need, and activating some of the enzymes as well.
JUDY: Best containers for freezing?
KARA: You can freeze in glass. Now, some people don't like to do that because of the risk of breakage. You can do a hard-sided plastic foods food grade container. Please don't reuse cottage cheese, yogurt, margarine containers-- don't use those. There are some types of plastics that are only meant for a single use. And by reusing them many times, they might let the air flow in and out that can access that food more and then that can lead to freezer burn. So just use a food grade freezer safe container. Also, you can use the same for plastic bags, there are food grade freezer bags, you want to make sure you're not using just a storage bag. The freezer bags-- you can feel the difference, they're much thicker, better quality, and so they don't let the air access your food as easily, which can then lead to freezer burn.
JUDY: I've used the vacuum sealer before; that was really nice.
KARA: A vacuum seal is great. A lot of people have those, they are kind of pricey. So if you're doing a lot of freezing, you know that might be a good option for you. Some of the equipment then that you need the ongoing bags to purchase can be, you know, also more expensive in comparison to just regular freezer bags. So that's just an option that you. You will want to weigh out--ff it's a cost benefit for you. There is one hack that you can do with freezer bags, like just a general Ziploc basic bag, is after you have put your produce into the bag, you can carefully immerse it into a bowl of water until it gets to the zipper part or seal part and quickly seal it. And by immersing it that water just forces the air out of the bag and it works wonderful.
JUDY: Oh, that's a great idea. I'm going to try that. The big question, Kara. We have a container of something at the bottom or back of our freezer that's been there for a while. How can we tell if it's still okay?
KARA: So I think there's two parts to that question. There's the quality answer. And there's the safety answer. If your freezer has maintained that desirable temperature of zero degrees or below the whole time that food has been in there, it should be safe. But now, the quality is where the difference comes in. The longer that foods sits in our freezer, the more the cells break down, the water is released from the food, it gets freezer burn. And so might be safe to eat. But it really has a poor quality.
JUDY: Yeah, it doesn't taste so good either.
KARA: And the nutrients have degraded over time, too. So you just don't have a quality product. But you might not get sick from eating it.
JUDY: Kara, I know you have lots of resources available. Can you direct us to some basic resources?
KARA: I sure can. We have a lot of fact sheets on our website, our MSU Extension website. They're called “Michigan Fresh” and there is one for each type of produce grown in Michigan. And it tells you how to preserve it. So if it can be frozen, it tells you that and then does it need to be blanched or not? And it'll tell you the blanching time. Can it be canned? You know if yes, it'll tell you which method to can-- and so that's a really great resource. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a wonderful website with a library of recipes. And you can access a lot of that same information through there—it’s one of our main resources that we use. United States Department of Agriculture USDA has some guide books that are also housed in that website. And then Ball, one of our major suppliers of equipment and products that we need for food preservation, does also have some great resources including their Ball Blue Book, which is I think the 37th edition is what we're on right now.
JUDY: So there's plenty of information out there for anyone who wants to preserve their food, whether it's freezing or canning, to save the season's bounty.
KARA: There sure is.
JUDY: Kara Lynch, food safety educator from Michigan State University Extension. Thanks for joining me today for “From the Ground Up!”
KARA: Thank you for having me.