Sometimes you may need to freeze food you have prepared and cooked for later use and using safe methods to freeze food is paramount.
Many pubs use frozen food prepared outside the premises so when deliveries are made frozen products should be put in the freezer as soon as possible because if the food starts to de-frost harmful bacteria may grow.
Just as chilling down food as soon as possible limits the chance of harmful bacteria multiplying, so is freezing it (when you need to) as soon as it has been prepared or chilled.
The same principles apply to freezing as they do to chilling; division into smaller portions quickens the process; keeping the frozen food in sealed containers (or freezer bags) prevents cross-contamination, clear labelling ensures proper use. Click this link for my guide to buying Commercial Freezers.
Now for the opposite process – defrosting
Just as harmful bacteria can grow in food that is not properly cooled and chilled, so they can in food that isn’t properly defrosted. Some food is safe to cook from frozen, such as chips or battered frozen fish or frozen chicken Kiev, some food isn’t, such as uncooked chicken or uncooked prawns. The manufacturer or supplier of your frozen foods will indicate on its labelling the correct method to employ to safely prepare the food for consumption, including defrosting instruction and cooking from frozen as appropriate; you should always follow these instructions.
Frozen or partially de-frosted took will take longer to cook than chilled or fully de-frosted food, and in many kitchens where there service time pressures are high there may be a temptation to “cut corners”. On no account should you try and quicken the times indicated by your suppliers to de-frost or cook frozen food as the outside of frozen food may be cooked, but the centre might not be, and it is this core of uncooked food that might contain harmful bacteria that have not been killed off by the cooking process.
Four Steps To Safe De-Frosting
- In an ideal world you would plan all your kitchen duties in advance, leaving sufficient time (and space) to defrost small amounts of food in your fridges. By de-frosting food over the time recommended by the supplier, at a safe temperature in your fridge you will be able to thoroughly cook any frozen food all the way through and kill any harmful bacteria that might be present. (An added bonus is that you will use less energy in the cooking process to bring food to the required temperature.)
- In the real world of busy commercial kitchens, sometimes it isn’t possible to de-frost all your food over the recommended time in your fridges. Unusual customer demand for any given ingredient or dish may dictate that you have to “force de-frost” frozen food. One way to do this is to put the frozen food in a lidded container and run it under cold running water, this will speed up the de-frosting process through to the centre of the food, whilst preventing the outer layer from warming beyond safe temperatures. (The downside to this process is that metered water use and drainage make this an expensive way to de-frost food.)
- Most commercial kitchens contain at least one microwave oven and using the de-frost setting on a microwave is a fast and safe way to bring frozen food to an ambient temperature for cooking. (Again, this is an expensive way of de-frosting food.)
- The final way to de-frost food, and in some instances the manufacturer will recommend this method, is to de-frost food at room temperature. For instance certain ready-to-eat food (cheesecake, gateaux, etc) can be safely de-frosted at room temperature, although for a “belt and braces” approach one should consider doing this in the fridge as well. (Whilst an economic method of de-frosting, beware of what “room temperature” means … most kitchens with all their heat sources blasting away will be significantly warmer than what the manufacturer envisages or recommends as room temperature.)
Whichever method you use to defrost frozen food there are common food safety points to be borne in mind:
- Keep food stuffs separate whilst de-frosting, in sealed air-tight/water-tight containers, especially meat/poultry/seafood/dairy products.
- Once de-frosted, frozen food should be used within 24 hours, so clear and effective labelling in the kitchen is important.
- All frozen food must be checked to ensure that it is properly de-frosted all the way through. Deep frozen food may appear de-frosted on the surface, whilst the centre is still frozen; so check for ice crystals using a skewer or by hand, check that joints in meat are flexible and if in doubt use your probe thermometer.
- In the event of freezer failure or power interruption you should ensure that all frozen food is moved to another working freezer; partially de-frosted food should be moved to a fridge to allow full, safe de-frosting; fully de-frosted foods should be cooked thoroughly for immediate use or safe chilling and freezing; food that cannot be immediately consumed or safely frozen should be thrown away; special care should be taken over certain foods that must remain frozen at all times until they are consumed or cooked, for instance ice-cream or prawns must not be re-frozen. (In the event of freezer failure or power interruption that results in food being thrown away your pub insurance should cover the majority of these losses.)
With all food, whether chilling, freezing, de-frosting, storing or cooking, remember this maxim:
IF IN DOUBT CHUCK IT OUT !
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