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What Happens To Viruses When Food Is Frozen

Norah Clark
Freezing steak on ice.

Norah Clark

Norah Clark, Editor of Boyd Hampers! Norah is a food writer with over a decade of experience in hospitality as a pastry chef, sous chef, and barista; former chef at the Savoy Hotel, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Plaza Hotel.

When food is frozen, viruses and other pathogens are generally inactivated but not necessarily killed. Cold temperatures can slow down the replication and activity of many viruses, making them less infectious, but some hardy viruses may survive freezing. If you handle frozen food properly and cook it thoroughly to ensure any potential pathogens are eliminated.

As a professional chef, from my experience, freezing has proven to be an effective way of deactivating viruses in food products. It's not a  surefire way to eliminate viruses completely.

I always make sure that the food products we used in the restaurant was frozen at just the right temperature. This prevents the growth of harmful bacteria that can spread to customers, causing them to fall ill!

So, by adhering to proper storage guidelines, such as maintaining a consistent temperature in the freezer, we can effectively minimize the risk of infection through frozen food products.

In this guide, I will examine the facts and give you valuable insights into what happens to viruses when food is frozen.

What Happens To Viruses When Food Is Frozen

Viruses can survive in almost any environment – from the human body to different surfaces.

However, once they enter the freezing cold environment of a freezer, their survival rate drastically decreases.

According to research from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), viruses such as norovirus can survive in temperatures as low as -4°F, but they are rapidly inactivated at higher temperatures.

How Do Viruses React To Different Freezing Temperatures?

The freezing point of water is 32°F, but different foods freeze at different temperatures.

For example, ice cream and other desserts freeze at around 0°F, while meat and poultry freeze at around -2°F to -6°F.

With this in mind, the temperature at which food is frozen can affect the survival rate of viruses.

According to a study published by the Journal of Food Protection, the survival rate of a virus can be impacted by the temperature of the food it is on.

For instance, if a virus is on poultry meat frozen at -4°C (24.8°F), it can be inactivated within 21 days.

However, if the same virus is on raspberries also frozen at -4°C, it can survive for up to two years.

Can Freezing Food Kill Viruses?

Freezing food does not kill viruses, but it can help to deactivate them.

When a virus enters a frozen environment, it becomes dormant and significantly reduces its rate of replication.

Although this does not kill the virus completely, it successfully reduces its number, making it less harmful.

The Best Way To Store Frozen Food To Minimize The Spread of Viruses

The best ways to store frozen food products depend on the type of food.

However, some general guidelines include:

  • Always make sure that the food is wrapped securely
  • Place the food at the back of the freezer
  • Store food products in separate containers to avoid cross-contamination
  • Maintain a consistent and safe temperature in the freezer

The Best and Safest Food To Freeze

There are foods that are safe and more suited to freeze. These include the following foods:

Fruits and Berries

Most fruits and berries freeze well and retain their taste, texture, and nutritional value.

They can be used in smoothies, baked goods, or enjoyed as frozen treats.

Vegetables

Many vegetables can be successfully frozen, especially when blanched before freezing. This helps preserve their color, texture, and nutrients.

Frozen vegetables are convenient for adding to soups, stews, stir-fries, and other dishes.

Meat and Poultry

Raw or cooked meat and poultry can be safely frozen. It’s best to store them in airtight packaging or freezer bags to prevent freezer burn.

Thaw them properly before cooking for the best results.

Seafood

Fish, shrimp, scallops, and other types of seafood can be safely frozen. Freezing seafood at its freshest helps maintain its quality.

It’s important to follow proper thawing procedures and cook seafood thoroughly after thawing.

Baked Goods

Many baked goods like bread, muffins, cookies, and cakes can be successfully frozen. Wrap them tightly in freezer-safe packaging to maintain their freshness.

Thawed baked goods can be reheated in the oven for a freshly-baked taste.

Soups and Stews

Soups, stews, and chili are excellent candidates for freezing.

They can be portioned and stored in freezer-safe containers for convenient meals later on.

Make sure to cool them before freezing and leave some headspace for expansion.

Herbs

Fresh herbs can be frozen in oil, water, or as pesto. They may lose some texture but retain their flavors.

Frozen herbs can be added directly to dishes during cooking or used to infuse oils or sauces.

Dairy Products

Some dairy products like butter, grated cheese, and yogurt can be safely frozen.

However, note that the texture of frozen dairy products may change, so they are better suited for cooking or baking purposes.

Food You Should Avoid Freezing

There are foods that are not safe and not suited to freezing. These include the following foods:

Eggs In Shells

Freezing eggs in their shells is not recommended. The liquid inside expands when frozen, causing the shell to crack and potentially allow bacteria to contaminate the egg.

It’s best to remove the eggs from the shell and freeze them in a separate container if needed.

Watery Vegetables

Vegetables with high water content, such as lettuce, cucumbers, and radishes, tend to become limp and mushy when frozen.

The freezing process damages the cell structure, resulting in an undesirable texture upon thawing.

Cream-Based Sauces

Sauces made with cream or dairy products, like bechamel or Alfredo sauce, can separate and become grainy when frozen.

The texture and consistency may not be the same after thawing, leading to an unsatisfactory result.

Fried Foods

Fried foods tend to lose their crispiness and become soggy when frozen and then thawed. The moisture in the freezer can cause the coating to become mushy.

It’s best to consume fried foods immediately after cooking for the best taste and texture.

Mayonnaise

Freezing mayonnaise-based salads, such as potato salad or coleslaw, can lead to a separation of ingredients and a watery texture upon thawing.

The emulsification of mayonnaise is affected by freezing, resulting in an unappetizing consistency.

Fresh Herbs

Freezing fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, or cilantro, can cause them to lose their vibrant color and become limp.

Instead, consider preserving herbs by drying or using them in infused oils or herb butters.

Whole Citrus Fruits

Freezing whole citrus fruits can alter their texture and taste. When thawed, the flesh can become mushy and the juice may be less flavorful.

It’s better to extract the juice and freeze it separately if you want to preserve citrus.

Cooked Pasta

Pasta can become mushy and lose its desirable texture when frozen. It’s best to cook pasta just before serving rather than freezing it.

However, if you need to freeze cooked pasta, slightly undercooking it can help maintain a better texture upon reheating.

FAQs

Can you get sick eating frozen food that has a virus?

Yes, you can get sick from eating frozen food that contains a virus. While freezing does not kill viruses, it can help to reduce their numbers. However, the risk of getting sick from a frozen food product is relatively low, and most food products sold by reputable sources are usually subjected to testing and safety measures to minimize such risks.

Summary

While freezing food does not kill viruses, it can help to deactivate them, making them less harmful.

As a result, it is crucial to store frozen foods properly, adhere to safety guidelines, and buy products from reputable sources to minimize the risk of virus contamination.

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