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The Nickel Pincher: The 4 Best Ways to Freeze Food without Plastic

Plastic baggies and cling wrap may be popular containers for freezing food, but there are less-wasteful, less-plastic options.

By Jean Nick

tags: FOOD PACKAGING, THE NICKEL PINCHER



The Nickel Pincher: The 4 Best Ways to Freeze Food without Plastic

Ditch plastic for glass containers or aluminum foil.

Freezing food is a very effective way of sealing in nutrients and cutting down on food waste in your house. The main downside, of course, is freezer burn, when cold, dry freezer air pulls the moisture out of your food—and the taste along with it. Freezer-burned food isn't harmful to eat, but the "burn" creates unpleasant texture, nutrient loss, and often goes hand in hand with the absorption of off-flavors pulled out of other items. Most of us usually wind up throwing out freezer-burned food, undoing efforts made to eliminate food waste.

The remedy? Airtight, puncture- and tear-resistant packaging with as little air trapped inside as possible. Plastic bags and containers fit the bill perfectly, but not if you're trying to cut plastic out of your life to avoid being exposed to harmful chemicals like hormone-disrupting bisphenol A, and also to avoid single-use disposable plastics that live forever in a landfill. So what should you use instead? There are a lot of good alternatives that work for freezing, including aluminum foil, glass containers and mason jars, and butcher or wax paper.

Metal and Glass Containers

These are the best choices for plastic-free freezing, especially if you are going to keep the food frozen for months before use. Flat, rectangular containers are the easiest to stack and also make the best use of freezer space. Just look for ones with silicon lids or lids with silicone gaskets, to ensure you get an airtight seal that will keep food fresh. Pyrex makes a storage set with glass lids that have airtight silicone seals, but for the most part, glass storage containers have plastic lids. One Korean company is making glass containers with stainless steel lids as well as 100-percent stainless steel freezer containers. If you're really dedicated to cutting down on plastic, you can replace plastic lids with these freezer-safe silicone lids. But these storage products are not cheap. So unless money is no object, you may need to explore other options. For instance, freeze the food in a glass container until solid, then remove the block of food from the container and wrap it tightly in something else before returning it to the freezer (see below for options). Then you can reuse the same glass container for something else.

Glass Canning/Freezing Jars

These tapered wide-mouth mason jars, usually described as quilted crystal jelly jars, are specifically designed for freezing and come in pint and half-pint sizes. They're a good choice for vegetables and fruits, and are much more affordable than glass or metal boxes, though less easy to pack tightly in the freezer. Use standard metal two-piece canning lids, which seal well, unless you're bothered by the fact that the coating on them contains a small amount of BPA. Tattler makes reusable, BPA-free lids, but they are a hard, though probably reasonably safe, plastic. So pick your poison. You can also freeze in standard canning jars, but you need to leave more headroom over liquids to allow for expansion. Don’t try to freeze liquids in jars other than mason jars. They will burst, as even mason jars do occasionally.

If you're using either glass jars or glass food containers, it helps to add ¼ inch of water over the frozen food after it is solid to help provide a temporary seal protecting the food from the air. Rinse the ice layer off with warm water before defrosting the rest of the jar's contents.

Waxed Boxes

Some commercial frozen foods still come in waxed cardboard boxes. If you can find empty ones for sale, they are a reasonable option, but be sure to tape the openings tightly with freezer tape, a special, thick type of masking tape designed to withstand the cold temperatures of your freezer. You can also make your own waxed boxes by reusing cartons or aseptic containers (the kind boxed soup comes in). To do that, carefully cut the top seam, open the container completely, and wash it out well. Fill it with the food to be frozen, leaving enough space to be able to fold the top over and seal it securely with freezer tape. And label it! You can't see through boxes the way you can with glass jars, so don't rely on memory to remind you of what's inside.

Paper and Foil Wraps

Wraps are good for chunks of firm foods such as meat or pre-frozen blocks of food (see "Metal and Glass Containers," previous page). Unbleached brown butcher paper can be used in the very short term or as a first-layer wrap, but it provides very little protection from moisture loss. Waxed paper is a bit more moisture resistant and will work for a few weeks. Look for unbleached products like Natural Value Waxed Paper or Waxed Paper Bags. Butcher and waxed paper are also good wraps for cheeses that you want to take out of plastic wraps and store in your refrigerator; just follow the same instructions for wrapping food, below.

Heavy-duty aluminum foil is probably your best bet—airtight when well sealed and moisture-resistant. It can be damaged easily while you handle it, though, and once there's a hole, it's Freezer-Burn City. Wrap meats carefully in foil, and then overwrap with butcher or waxed paper to protect it (if you're careful with the paper, you can probably reuse it a few times), and be sure to recycle the foil when you're finished with it.

Whether using paper or foil, to wrap food properly, cut a piece large enough to wrap all the way around the food, plus a couple of inches extra. Place the food in the center, bring two opposite edges together, and roll them down until the rolled edge is snug against the food; flatten the rolled edges, and tape down securely with freezer tape. Flatten the extra wrap at one end, fold in the corners to make a point, fold that up snugly over the taped seam, and tape. Flatten the remaining loose end and repeat, squeezing out as much air as possible as you go. For anything you plan to keep longer than a few weeks, repeat with a second length of wrap.

A Few More Alternatives...

More and more silicone products that are great for freezing have been introduced, which is great. Silicone is sturdy, reusable, and as airtight and puncture- and moisture-resistant as plastic. Plus, it's more durable and doesn't come with all the associated health risks. Norpro’s Sili-stretch bowl covers ($10.95 for two at reuseit.com) are stretchy sheets of silicone you can use to seal the tops of bowls or baking pans with. The largest of the sheets is 10"-x-10" but stretches to twice its size, so it should cover a pretty big container. And—Eureka!—Lekue has (finally) introduced what is, in my mind, the holy grail of freezer containers: a 1-quart zip-close silicone pouch ($15 each at lekueusa.com)! I’m hoping they will come out with a larger size as well.

Admittedly, these silicone products are a bit pricey for my nickel-pinching self, so it's going to be a while before I rely on them as my only tools in the freezer. If you want a more affordable option, plastic freezer bags, ever airtight and long-lasting, can be handy kitchen helpers, despite their somewhat iffy raw material. Opt for "freezer bags" (not "storage" or "sandwich" bags, which are much thinner). Most are made with a type of plastic that does not contain BPA, but if you don't like the idea of your food touching plastic, you can wrap it first in waxed or butcher paper, then put it in a plastic bag. Also, biobased plastic bags and wraps made from corn and sugar are available online and in some stores; I've yet to try them for freezing, and there's some controversy over whether they're actually greener than regular plastic, considering that they take a lot of energy to make, not many cities compost them, and they won't break down in the average home compost pile. I'd opt for these as your last resort.

Published on: November 26, 2013
Updated on: November 26, 2013



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When reusing 1 litre tetras

When reusing 1 litre tetras or milk cartons I freeze the product, cut and fold the box, then put the entire thing into a washed milk bag which I tape shut.

By being packaged in single

By being packaged in single serving sizes, it also thaws faster. I also wash and reuse the plastic freezer bags. Since the meat hasn't touched the bag I don't worry about bacteria on the bag.fashion review

Sorry for the double post.

Sorry for the double post.

Great post

Great post

I have heard about a company

I have heard about a company that does these kind of things! Now that is what I call healthy food delivery!!! If you are ever thinking about catering a party you should give them a call because they are really good at this and will surely do a great job.

Substantially, the article is

Substantially, the article is really the best on this laudable topic. I concur with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your future updates.Just saying thank you will not just be enough, for the wonderful lucidity in your writing.
Micheal

Great tips

some of these are like - OH yeah that sounds great! I like the idea to use a tetra pak carton again. I have saved a whole bunch of those to recycle (I was seriously going to send them off if I couldn't find a place local that would take them), but now I know I can re-purpose them this way if I would like. I also have a whole bunch of jars I've washed out and saved from food I've eaten, but since they are not specifically mason ones, I am a tad bit worried they will burst like the author said - although I think that could be preventable mayyybe by keeping it cracked until it is all the way frozen. If anyone knows for sure, that would be cool.

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Defensive options is normally ordered inside the kind of an Jordan , wax, and silicone spray, all of that is on the marketplace jordan high heelsat most shoe retailers.

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Wax-coated Freezer Boxes

Does anyone know where to purchase wax-coated freezer boxes?
Our family freezes a lot of produce and fruit. Ever since I can remember we've used the pint and quart sized boxes paired with gusseted poly bags. I can still find the bags but, my old boxes have seen better days. Now my daughters (age 22 & 24) are wanting to freeze as well. The ziploc style just don't stack in the freezer well and I like to save my plastic boxes for liquid items. Trying to stock up before summer :), In Ohio.

Aluminum vs plastic

I have been trying to reduce my use of plastic especially in food containers for a couple of years. I do have some concerns about the use of aluminum foil. # 1 is my concern about the contamination of food with aluminum. I do not cook in aluminum pans due to the possible health risks of having aluminum leach into the food. I wonder if there is a similar risk with using aluminum foil to store foods. The only solution I have found for that is first wrapping the food in wax paper. #2. Is aluminum foil really more environmentally friendly that reusable plastic? How much energy is used to create aluminum foil which can be recycled but rarely reused? Might it not make more sense, environmentally, to use a rigid plastic container that can be used hundreds of times? I think this would be a good question to use for one of the Newsletters "This or That" articles.

When I repackage meat I wrap individual servings in wax paper, then put several servings in a larger plastic freezer bag. When I use the meat, I take out only what I need. By being packaged in single serving sizes, it also thaws faster. I also wash and reuse the plastic freezer bags. Since the meat hasn't touched the bag I don't worry about bacteria on the bag.

wax vs plastic

Hi Jean. I love your suggestions. I just want to clarify one thing. While reusing milk cartons or aseptic packages is a great idea for reducing waste, it's not a plastic-free method. Milk cartons are coated inside and out with polyethylene. So are aseptic containers, which are layers of plastic, paper, aluminum, paper, & plastic. If you don't want plastic touching your food, don't store it in any kind of paperboard container, as they are all coated with plastic these days. Wax (which is also a petroleum product, by the way) is pretty much a thing of the past.

Aluminum Foil

According to the Reynolds Web site "The difference in appearance between dull and shiny [sides of aluminum foil] is due to the foil manufacturing process. In the final rolling step, two layers of foil are passed through the rolling mill at the same time. The side coming in contact with the mill's highly polished steel rollers becomes shiny. The other side, not coming in contact with the heavy rollers, comes out with a dull or matte finish."

There are a few aluminum foil products, such as "Reynolds Wrap Non-Stick Foil" that have a layer of non-stick coating laminated to the aluminum. Perhaps this is what gave rise to what you were told? I'd definitely avoid aluminum foil with a no-stick side.

But standard aluminum foil is almost pure aluminum with traces of iron and silicone mixed in to increase strength and puncture-resistance -- and is definitely plastic-free.

And one more tidbit about foil: the dark discoloration that occasionally forms on foil in the oven is aluminum oxide or an aluminum salt. Moisture, acids such as vinegar or tomatoes, or salty food may cause it. Reynolds considers this harmless. I'd probably discard any discolored bits of food involved.

Aluminum Foil

I've been told that the dull side of aluminum foil is dull because it has a plastic coating. Thus, I never put that side of the foil on the food side. Please confirm whether this is accurate, because if it is, the use of foil as a non-plastic must be re-considered.

Reusing cartons

If you buy milk and juice in cartons the empties are perfect for freezing food in. Just pull open the top all the way, rinse well, and turn upside down to dry. Put in any quantity of food you want to freeze (freezing just what you are likely to use at one time is best) and put the carton -- still open -- in the freezer overnight. Once the food has frozen solid (and expanded) cut any extra top off a few inches above the surface of the food (use the original fold lines to give you an idea how much to leave), fold the top down tightly over the food, fold the extra over, and tape securely with freezer tape.

Oh, and do be sure to write the date and the contents on the tape so you'll be able to tell which milk carton is what, and to use it in a timely manner.

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