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Handling Frozen Food Safely

4 min read

In the course of our daily lives, it is common for us to have to store or handle frozen foods, from meat to vegetables. What few might consider is that mishandling foodstuff stored this way poses a serious health risk.

In a study done by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2020, findings showed an alarming lack of care or awareness displayed by American households in handling frozen foods safely. Half of the respondents also revealed that someone living in their home is vulnerable to foodborne pathogens, which further compounds the issue.

Compromised frozen foods can be a host to various kinds of harmful micro-organisms such as salmonella, campylobacter, listeria and E. coli. When introduced into the human body, these pathogens pose serious health risks.

Wash – and keep clean
Micro-organisms are ubiquitous in our environment. Harmful micro-organisms may be found on our hands, dish cloths or food. The Singapore Food Agency recommends the following measures to ensure food safety.
*Wash your hands with soap and water before handling any food items or utensils.
*Wash and soak fruits and vegetables before eating.
*Wash knives, cutting boards and kitchen utensils between uses, and especially after using them to cut raw foods.
*Dsinfect kitchen sponges in chlorine solution or heat for 2 minutes in the microwave oven.

Keep cold food cold
The Singapore Food Agency advises that the temperature of chillers be kept between 0°C and 4°C and the temperature of freezers at -18°C and below. This is due to the fact that bacteria thrive best between 5°C and 60°C, a temperature range known as the ‘Temperature Danger Zone’.

Storing meat and seafood at safe temperatures
Store frozen meat in the freezer at -18°C. For frozen meat in larger packaging, thaw the meat just enough (to about -10°C) to separate into smaller portions, then deep freeze in individual packs.

When storing or thawing meat in the refrigerator, place the meat in containers or trays to prevent the meat juices from contaminating other food.

For seafood, wash and dry fresh seafood before placing them in clean plastic bags or containers for storage. Divide into portions based on your normal serving size. Store live oysters, clams and mussels in the refrigerator. Keep them damp. Do not place them on ice, or let them come into contact with fresh water. Do not place them in airtight containers.

Do not overstock your meat or seafood supply. Follow the rule of first in/first out, ie. use older stock first.

Do not re-freeze seafood that has been completely thawed.

Do not open your refrigerator or freezer doors more often than necessary to minimise temperature fluctuation.

According to the Singapore Food Agency, different meats and seafoods require  different storage times

Storage Guide for Chilled Meat

TYPE OF MEAT REFRIGERATOR (4oC) FREEZER (-18oC)
Bacon 5 – 7 days 1 – 2 months
Cooked Ham 3 – 4 days 1 – 2 months
Sausages 1 – 2 days 1 – 2 months
Beef / Veal 3 – 5 days 6 – 9 months
Lamb / Mutton 3 – 5 days 3 – 6 months
Pork 3 – 5 days 1 – 2 months
Poultry 1 – 2 days 1 – 3 months
Cooked Meatballs 3 – 4 days 1 – 2 months

 

Storage Guide for Frozen Meat
TYPE OF MEAT REFRIGERATOR (4oC) FREEZER (-18oC)
Sausages 1 – 2 days 1 – 2 months
Beef / Veal 3 – 5 days 4 – 12 months
Lamb / Mutton 3 – 5 days 6 – 9 months
Pork 3 – 5 days 4 – 6 months
Poultry 1 – 2 days 6 – 12 months
Meatballs
– raw 1 – 2 days 1 – 2 months
– cooked 3 – 4 days 2 – 3 months

 

Storage Guide for Chilled Seafood
TYPE OF SEAFOOD REFRIGERATOR (4oC) FREEZER (-18oC)
Fish 1 – 2 days 2 – 4 months
Clams, Mussels, Oysters and Squids 1 – 2 days 3 – 4 months
Crabs, Crayfish, Prawns, Lobsters 2 – 3 days 2 – 3 months
Cooked Prawns and Mussels 3 – 4 days 2 – 3 months
Fishballs and Yong Tau Foo
– pre-packed Use by date Do not freeze
– loose 1 – 2 days Do not freeze

Storage Guide for Frozen Seafood

TYPE OF SEAFOOD REFRIGERATOR (4oC) FREEZER (-18oC)
Fish 1 – 2 days 3 – 6 months
Prawns 1 – 2 days 9 – 12 months
Oyster
– shucked 1 – 2 days 3 – 4 months
– shelled 1 – 2 days 2 – 3 months
Fishballs (cooked) 3 – 5 days Use by date

An important point to note is that freezing does not kill bacteria that is already on the food, it merely inhibits reproduction. Therefore, good handling practices and refrigerator maintenance should also be used in combination with proper freezing methods to ensure food safety.

Freezing cooked food
Always try to cook just enough for the current meal. If you are cooking for more than one meal, apportion the excess cooked food and keep them in clean, covered shallow containers. All cooked food should be refrigerated or frozen within two hours after cooking.

When freezing cooked food, make sure they are wrapped tightly.

Do not refreeze frozen food that has been thawed.