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Old 05-23-2014, 07:47 AM   #1
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Storing, Freezing, & Re-heating

Hi. I was looking for a Forum that might deal specifically with all of the above, but couldn't find one !

So if there is one, and I've somehow missed it, please re-direct me !

Most of my interest is about the above, rather than cooking. The reason for that is that I can only cook 4 dishes ! But for reasons of economy, I tend to cook them in far more bulk than can be consumed without all of the thread title.

So, although I have only 4 dishes, I have many questions. And it is on the cards that I may shortly be increasing the number to a massive 5.

Anyway....my question tonight concerns some dishes [ cottage pie actually] that I cooked a while back, decanted into containers, and put them in the freezer. Fortunately I always write the date on the lids.

To be honest, I forgot about them, and came across them the other day. They are dated March 11th 2013. Which makes them nearly 15 months old.

Concerned for own well-being, I Googled on this subject, and found some info which seems to imply that age does not wither them [ sounded like a World War Remembrance Service !], but it will affect the taste. But would not be 'unsafe'.

I was, of course, greatly heartened by this . But have remained slightly suspicious of Google info, ever since I read about how to fell a tree, and ended up nearly killing myself and the dogs.

So if anyone has any better information on this topic, I would be very grateful. Even to the extent of sending you one of the many Cottage Pies I have frozen.

I do understand that people may be a touch worried about giving info that may lead to hospitalisation, or even Cemetaryisation, so am quite happy to accept info on the 'In my Experience.....' basis. That should keep you covered. And if the worst does happen, I'm sure something will be on hand to keep me covered too !

Many Thanks in advance.

BT

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Old 05-23-2014, 10:09 AM   #2
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If it's been frozen solid for 15 months, it is not dangerous to eat. As mentioned, it may have suffered in quality. Factors - how it was packaged/wrapped, if the freezer is frost-free.

Heat it up and taste it. Then decide to keep the other containers or not.
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Old 05-23-2014, 12:07 PM   #3
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Some basics. Cooking the foods you're talking about results in pasteurization but not sterilization*. Pateurization achieves what is called a 5-log reduction in bacteria, 99.999% killed. That number may vary in informal home cooking practice, but the reduction is substantial enough that almost all people who do not have very serious immune issues can deal with the remainder. So, your food is good when it comes off the heat.

What's next? You handling the food for serving and storing. The 140F "official" danger zone temperature is not really accurate, because time is also involved in killing bacteria. (My sous vide beef might stay at 133F for days.) But 140F gives you a good feel for when you should start thinking carefully. So your food drops into the danger zone, the temperature range in which bacteria begin to multiply again, and it does it in pretty short order. Your task is to get it either into you or, if it's going to be stored, below 40F as quickly as possible. Now, this does not mean just that the contained makes it into your 36F refrigerator. It means that all of the food, down to the center, gets below 41F. Because sous vide meat is so often working closer to the boundry, we use an ice bath to cool it rapidly.

I suspect you probably let it cool a bit, so it's not so hot to handle. That's time in the growth zone. An hour in a bath of half ice and half water is not a bad thing to consider before the container go in the freezer. Every food is different, and a thermometer can tell you how long it takes to cool down to the core. Once you know, that's your cooling time. If it takes a lot more, just consider that it chills far less slowly in the freezer than in ice bath, so the ice bath becomes even more desirable. I don't have any reliable numbers for your sort of food, but one experiment with a thermometer to see how long it takes to get below 40F will tell you.

If the food was properly handled, the 32-40F refrigerator environment buys you a few days. But bacteria do grow in that range. Not to be too alarmed, remember your milk is pasteurized, not sterilized, and it keeps well for some several days.

In your freezer (about -18F, if adjusted properly), bacteria cannot grow, because there's no liquid water. Some are even killed by cellular water crystals. Taste can suffer, depending on he food and container, but it's safe. A scientist in Alaska once cooked up some 36,000 year old bison meat and said it was okay. Kind of tough.

Of course, what goes in must come out, and then the trick becomes how to pass it through the danger zone quickly enough. Thawing in the refrigerator is recommended, because that's still in the slow growth zone, and it will thaw well before much growth happens. Then if it's heated above 140F with little time out of the refrigerator, it's still fine.

All of the above presumes we're talking about common foods, cooked so that every part of the food reaches relatively high temperatures. This is especially important when ground meat is used, the surface bacteria being distributed throughout by the grinding.

So, the real exposures of concern are the cooling time after cooking and the time at room temperature before reheating. (The cooking kills most of what was there from being prepped for cooking.) We have all violated these rules many times without apparent harm, but you're making and storing multiple meals all the time, which kind of increases your chances of constant rule breaking creating a problem. Probably not a real bad problem, assuming everyone is fundamentally healthy, but food poisoning is never fun. And you have the double insurance of applying a critical smeller to the thawed food.

Disease causing bacteria do not all make food smell or appear spoiled, but most bacteria of both kinds thrive in similar temperature ranges, and spoilage implies some significant time in the bad zone.

*Sterilization, asepsis, is the elimination of all organisms. That's required for long-term room temperature storage, which is not our concern here.
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Old 05-23-2014, 02:09 PM   #4
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In my experience (!) I've eaten food that has been frozen for about as long as you mentioned, Burnt-toast.

It doesn't taste good but not in the rotten sense. As mentioned, food that is prepared (like cottage pie) will be more susceptible than a raw, hunk of roast.

In my experience.

BTW--- I like your euphemism "Cemetaryisation".
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Old 05-23-2014, 05:06 PM   #5
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That's what they mean when they say the quality will suffer from long-term storage. The food will be safe to eat but the texture can be mushy and not enjoyable.
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Old 05-23-2014, 05:29 PM   #6
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Excellent post, GLC.
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Old 05-23-2014, 05:39 PM   #7
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You might look into a vacuum sealer like a food saver. They really extend the time things can be frozen without quality loss. From raw ingredients to pre cooked foods I couldn't live without mine.

GLC covered the food safety aspect very well.

I can only add that reheating depends on what you're reheating. Some foods like to be defrosted first and others do well straight from the freezer to the heat. And there you have many options. Zap in the microwave, Toss in the oven, Plop in a pot, or put in a pan.

As a general rule I've found that reheating is best done faster rather then slower.

And go for the gusto in life and shoot for 6 or 7 dish's. Sounds like you've got 4 aced so why limit yourself to only 1 more?
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Old 05-24-2014, 08:01 AM   #8
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I'm not quite sure how to reply to an individual post,so I guess that is my second question!
Anyway, thanks to all for your excellent replies.
And especially to GLC, who, as befitting a Head Chef, has given me...er...food...for thought.
Because apart from all the technical stuff he has told me, he has made it clear that this whole issue is about temperature change.

And this applies to the cooking in the first place.....the cooling down and fridge-ing or freezing in the second, and the heating up again to a point where it is edible in the third.

[Or is that the fourth ?] Never mind.

The one question I have [ for him or her !] is whether or not it is necessary to let the cooked food cool down before putting it into containers [ in my case sealed plastic clip-boxes] and into the freezer.

Now I have it in my mind from somewhere [ and unfortunately I can't remember where, so can't blame anyone.... ] that you do have to let food cool down before placing it in the freezer.

On the other hand from what you've said, the cooling down is purely to avoid dealing with hot food and cold fingers, which I'm not bothered about if it reduces the risk of the bacteria coming out to play, as you suggested.

So is it possible to cook, put in container, seal, and then freeze straight way, even when hot ?

Or may that not be good for any of the elements concerned.......food, freezer, cook, or eventual consumer ?

I have been thinking of trying one of the contents of a re-heated cottage pie container out on the dogs.

The main thing that is putting me off, is that if it upsets them, I will be the one who has to clear up the mess on the floor, bath the dogs, clean the carpet, and administer the sweet lavender smelling deodorant.

But thanks to all for your replies. Including GLC's comment about the scientist in Alaska who cooked the 36,000 year old Bison meat, and said it was 'kinda tough' !!

His name wasn't Macdonald was it ?

Cheers for now.
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Old 05-24-2014, 09:12 AM   #9
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Burnt-Toast, one way to make a reply specific to a person is to include their name? Another is to use the "Quote" button below the post. I didn't want to do that in this case, because your post is kinda long. Are you viewing in "threaded mode" or in "hybrid mode"? I view in "linear mode", so I don't see who replied to whom. I also don't know what people do to make a post show as a reply to a specific post.

He (I checked his public profile. It says GLC is male.) wrote, "... I suspect you probably let it cool a bit, so it's not so hot to handle. That's time in the growth zone. An hour in a bath of half ice and half water is not a bad thing to consider before the container go in the freezer. ..."

He mentions that food will cool faster in an ice bath than in the freezer. He was not suggesting that you let food cool to handling temp.

I have read that when cooling foods in the fridge, the lid shouldn't be on tight until they are cold. Supposedly the condensation can make foods "sour".
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Old 05-24-2014, 09:17 AM   #10
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I just remembered something Burnt-toast. Is there onion in that cottage pie? If there is you shouldn't give it to the dogs. Onions are toxic to dogs.
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