Freezing Up Summer Produce

By Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

As fall gets into full swing, you may be wondering about what to do with all of your summer produce. Americans throw away hundreds of dollars’ worth of food every year, with the majority of that being produce that spoils too quickly, or dairy products. However, you do not have to be a part of that statistic. With a few simple strategies, you can make sure you do not end up throwing out all of that beautiful summer and fall produce. Your best bet to avoid wasting fruits and veggies? Freeze them!

Most types of produce maintain their quality when frozen for approximately six months for fruit and 12 months for vegetables. Fruits do not require much pre-preparation before you freeze them – you can basically freeze them directly. However, most vegetables require you to blanch them. Blanching is briefly cooking vegetables in boiling water (the boiling time varies with the type of produce, but is generally less than 3 minutes) and then immediately placing the boiled veggies into an ice bath—a big bowl of ice water. This stops the cooking process.

Blanching vegetables slows down the loss of color, texture, flavor, and beneficial nutrients that can occur during freezing. While you can freeze vegetables without blanching them first and they are safe to eat, their quality may diminish over time, making them less appealing and not as nutritious.

To freeze fruits and vegetables that you’ve grown in your garden, received from a friend, or purchased at your local grocery store, follow these easy steps:

1. Rinse the produce and pat it dry.

2. Prep your produce according to this guide:

  • Bell peppers: Cut out stem, remove seeds, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, blanch 2-3 minutes.
  • Berries: Remove stems.
  • Broccoli & cauliflower: Cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch florets, blanch 3 minutes.
  • Carrots: Peel, cut into 1/4-inch slices, blanch 2 minutes.
  • Cherries: Remove stems and pit.
  • Greens: Remove any tough stems and ribs, chop, blanch 2-3 minutes.
  • Green beans: Trim stem ends.
  • Mangoes: Cut off skin, cut fruit off pit, cut into 1-inch pieces.
  • Nectarines, peaches, and plums: Remove pit, cut into sixths.
  • Peas: For edible pods, remove tough stems. If using shelling peas, remove from pod. Blanch 1-2 min.
  • Strawberries: Remove stem and hull, cut large berries in half.
  • Summer squash: Cut into 1/2-inch slices, blanch 2-3 minutes.
  • Tomatoes: Remove core.
  • Winter squash: Cut in half, remove seeds and stringy membrane. Instead of blanching, place cut-side down on baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray, bake at 400 degrees F until tender,35-50 minutes. Let cool, scoop squash into bowl, removing skin. Mash with fork, cool completely.

3. Place the produce on a baking sheet (in a single layer) and freeze.

4. Remove the frozen produce from the freezer and transfer it to freezer-safe tiptop bag or an airtight plastic container.

Operation Food Search is hosting a drop-in Open House from 11:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 1st to kick off its 90 Days of Giving campaign. Experience what it takes to feed 150,000 individuals a month! Learn how you can be a shining example in helping us heal the hurt of hunger, whether it’s by hosting a food drive at your company, making an on-line donation to end childhood hunger, or volunteering in our distribution center.

For a full schedule of events, activities and volunteer opportunities please visit our web site www.OperationFoodSearch.org.