Food safety and hygiene are vital when cooking meals. Most of us follow good general food safety practices without giving it too much thought. We learn from our parents and grandparents how to cook, clean and treat our food. So, most of us go about our lives following the methods our parents learnt from their parents. So why can it still go so wrong when it comes to cooking food from frozen? Well, there is every chance that your parents never really knew how! Even many of us won’t have grown up with a freezer in the house as standard. It is no wonder there is so much confusion around how you cook frozen food. It wasn't until the 1920s and 1930s that freezers became a domestic appliance. Even then, many families still wouldn’t have had a fridge or a freezer until the 1950s, when home refrigeration options became more affordable. Freezing things at home is still a relatively new technology. The technology surrounding freezing food has grown and changed over the 100 years freezers have been present in kitchens. So has our knowledge on the subject!
You can cook many foods from frozen. It might surprise you how much defrosting time this can save you and how many foods you can cook from frozen.
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Is it safe to cook frozen food?
When considering whether it is safe to cook frozen food, think about which foods are safe and not safe to cook from frozen. Whilst you might find it surprising just how many foods you can cook from frozen, you still need to be careful. If you are unsure, then always defrost it first.
These days most of our foods contain cooking and storing advice on the packaging. Always check the label or box and see how the manufacturer recommends you cook, eat and store the food. Even this advice isn't infallible. How many times have you followed the instructions on the packet only to find that your frozen ready meal is still cold in the middle, or your chips are still undercooked? I know I have! These days, I have a good idea of how long my oven takes to cook certain foods. I often have to lower the advised temperature slightly and up the time by a few minutes on almost any ready meal, frozen pizza or food I cook. Everyone's oven will be different, so use the packet advice as a guideline.
There are lots of foods that you would typically buy fresh and freeze at home. These don’t always come with handy advice on the packaging. You can freeze many of these. You can also cook some of them from frozen.
Frozen vegetables are a staple in our freezers. Most of us are comfortable with cooking veg from frozen and have few problems. But there are many other types of fresh food that you can freeze and then cooked without defrosting. You can cook many kinds of meat and fish from frozen. However, these do tend to take a little longer, so you need to ensure you allow adequate time to cook things correctly.
Can I cook frozen ready meals?
You can cook most frozen ready meals from frozen; they are usually designed for you to do this. It is rare to find a ready meal that you buy frozen that needs defrosting before cooking. You may even find that many of them taste their best when you cook them from frozen. This is because the manufacturer has designed and made them for the freezer to save you time and effort. There should be instructions for both storage and cooking on the packet, which will tell you if you need to thaw out the meal first.
Things get a little tricky if you have bought ready meals from the chilled aisles instead of the freezer section of a supermarket. The great news is that you should be fine to freeze most of these. Such meals will have instructions on whether they are suitable for freezing and how to cook the food. Luckily, many ready meals now contain instructions for cooking both fresh and from frozen on the packaging to make it a little easier.
Can I cook meat from frozen?
Meat is one of the more contentious areas of food safety. With so many scare stories, it's easy to become a little nervous when cooking it. That said, many of us have been cooking and eating meat without too many problems our whole lives. There's a good reason we need to be careful with meat; it contains many harmful bacteria. These are usually the reason behind any food poisoning or stomach upsets you may get after eating. Some can cause severe illnesses, which is why it is essential to be careful. However, meat is one of those foods that you can cook from frozen.
When it comes to cooking and storing meat, the key is ensuring it doesn't sit at the ideal temperature for bacteria growth for long - between 8°C and 63°C. Therefore, you should always keep meat in a fridge or freezer. Keeping the meat cool or even frozen doesn’t necessarily kill all the bacteria it contains. It keeps the temperature low enough for bacteria to lie dormant and not grow. This is where cooking it well becomes essential. To kill these bacteria, you must ensure you cook the meat and keep it at a core temperature of 70°C for a minimum of two minutes.
This is why it is possible to cook most meats from frozen. You can still cook meat and ensure it meets the temperature needed to kill bacteria. If you do cook meat from frozen, remember you will need to adjust your cooking times. If possible, use a food thermometer to check the temperature and ensure it is hot all the way through. The cooking time you need to add will vary depending on the size and density of the meat; you may have to add up to 50% to the cooking time. It can be more challenging to cook big joints of meat this way; where possible, cut your meats into smaller and easier cooked portions before freezing.
Can I cook frozen chicken?
You can cook chicken from frozen like other meats. You need to approach it with as much care as you would any type of meat, but it is possible to cook it from frozen. It works best and is much safer if you choose frozen diced chicken rather than whole chickens or larger pieces. These smaller amounts of meat will cook through much easier.
When cooking frozen larger pieces of chicken or even whole birds, it often isn't easy to get right. It is tricky to ensure enough cooking time for the middle of the meat to make it safe whilst not burning or drying out the rest. This is why it's recommended you defrost these before cooking.
Can I cook sausages from frozen?
We have all had times when you fancy a full cooked breakfast, but the only sausages you have are frozen. Luckily, you can cook most types of sausages from frozen, and they will still taste great when cooked this way. It is much quicker too! If you usually cook your sausages in a frying pan, you can cook them from frozen using the same method. Remember, it will take a little longer to cook them through. It should take about fifteen minutes to cook sausages from frozen. Always check they are piping hot throughout before eating. As with all meats, you need to cook them at 70°C for at least two minutes to destroy harmful bacteria.
Can I cook mince from frozen?
Mince is a fantastic meat that you can make into all sorts of quick and easy meals. It's perfect if you are in a rush or haven't had time to get to the supermarket. Even if your mince is frozen, you can still cook it and make a tasty meal at relatively short notice. Most meat and poultry mince is easy to cook from frozen. You can put your mince into a pan with a little oil and stir it gently until the meat has thawed out and starts to break down. Then you can fry the mince as you usually would. Mince is fairly easy to cook with, and it is much easier to ensure it is fully cooked through and is hot enough for long enough to kill any harmful bacteria.
Can I cook fish from frozen?
You can cook fish and most types of seafood from frozen. To do so, you would need to choose an appropriate method. Luckily, there are lots of these! You can grill, roast, steam or poach frozen fish with success. You will still need to check that the fish is piping hot all the way through before serving. The same heating rules also apply. You need to ensure it has been at a temperature of 70°C for more than two minutes to ensure you have destroyed any harmful bacteria in the fish.
One thing to remember when it comes to cooking frozen fish is that you should avoid shallow frying it from frozen. This is a faster way to cook fish, but it is too fast for frozen fish. It is unlikely the fish will get up to the right temperature and remain there for long enough within the cooking time.
What foods can’t you cook from frozen?
You can cook many types of food from frozen safely and effectively, but you should try to defrost first in some cases.
Eggs are a tricky one. You can freeze eggs, but you should avoid cooking them from frozen. They do contain bacteria, some of which may be harmful. The small amount of cooking time it takes to cook an egg doesn't allow the eggs to come up to temperature and remain long enough to destroy the bacteria. This also applies to any eggs you plan to add to recipes. Thaw them out before adding them to ensure your food is safe to eat.
Milk and most dairy
You should thaw out milk, creams, and other dairy foods before cooking. This is mainly because these foods don't freeze well. When freezing, the fats and proteins separate, and this can discolour the food and make it grainy in texture. When you thaw it out and then heat it up, you have more chance to blend these back together.
Uncooked bread dough
You can cook most baked goods and doughs from frozen. However, there are some exceptions to this. The exceptions are any dough that requires time to rise. You should thaw these out first before cooking. This is to allow it the time it needs to rise and develop before cooking.
If you have slices of cooked bread, you can pop these into the toaster or under the grill and make yourself some toast without thawing the bread first.
Any food you plan to slow cook
Slow cooking is not a method recommended for cooking foods from frozen. You may be safe with some frozen veg, but you should first thaw out any meats or other ingredients. As the name suggests - slow cooking heats food very slowly. When you use frozen food, it will be sitting at the danger zone temperature of between 8°C and 63°C for bacteria growth for too long. You may find that some frozen foods never reach a high enough temperature for long enough to cook through in a slow cooker.
Cooking your food from frozen
Cooking most foods from frozen is safe to do so. As long as you ensure the food has ample time to cook all the way through.
Founder of The Full Freezer, Kate Hall, also points out that it is important to ensure you care for your food correctly before freezing it, if you are not purchasing it ready-frozen. Kate told Age Times: "Whilst freezing food will stop bacteria from multiplying, it does not kill it, so it's important to ensure fresh foods are stored appropriately.
"When shopping, take a cool bag to keep any fresh meat and fish cold whilst you transport them home, and ensure your fridge is under 5°C (41°F). Meat should not be washed as this can spread bacteria to other surfaces, but fruit and veg should be thoroughly washed, and in some cases blanched too.
"Keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separated to avoid cross-contamination, and always follow the 'use-by' date on the pack if there is one."
You also need to ensure that you cook the food and keep it at a temperature of 70°C for two minutes or more. This helps to kill any harmful bacteria that might be hiding in the food. Most pre-packaged foods come with instructions on how to cook them from frozen. The packaging should also tell you if the food is unsuitable for cooking from frozen, so always check before doing so.