Why You Should Always Follow My Golden “Shake Rule” When Buying Frozen Veggies

published Apr 26, 2024
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Frozen food aisle of grocery store
Credit: Katrina Wittkamp/Getty Images

If you aren’t shopping the freezer aisle every week, you’re missing out on some of the best deals and most versatile products in the entire grocery store. I rely on frozen vegetables, microwaveable meals, and dinner shortcuts to make feeding my family an easier — and yes, sometimes even enjoyable — task. 

Relying on these often sliced, seasoned, and par-cooked frozen ingredients saves time in the kitchen. They can also reduce food waste because they don’t go bad nearly as fast as what you might buy in the produce section. And despite what you may have heard, frozen foods are just as good as the fresh stuff. Honestly, sometimes these items taste even better because they’ve been picked and flash-frozen at the peak of freshness. 

To make sure I’m always buying the very best vegetables (and fruit) the freezer has to offer, I always shake the bag or box before I add any freezer item to my cart. Here’s why.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

But First, How Are These Foods Even Frozen?

It’s normal to expect blocks in the freezer, but they should be made of water, not broccoli florets. Most commercially frozen foods are frozen individually and quickly in a process called IQF (Individually Quick Frozen). Once frozen, fruits and vegetables are packaged to flow freely in the bag or box so that you can cook your desired portion of food. IQF foods also have very small ice crystals so that the texture of the food is closer to fresh once thawed and cooked.

Frozen foods pass through many hands before they’re served on your table. Once leaving the farm, they’re processed which can include anything from trimming to seasoning and par-cooking before being frozen and packaged. From there they are transported chilled to the grocery store and displayed on the shelves before the last leg of their journey into your cart and home freezer. 

Why You Should Always Shake Frozen Vegetables (and Fruit!) Before Buying

At every change of hands, there is an opportunity for thawing and refreezing as temperatures fluctuate. In extreme circumstances, like if a store’s freezer has gone on the fritz or if the doors are left open too long (or too frequently), it can cause freezer burn or partially thaw and refreeze with larger ice crystals that result in a mushy texture when you get home. When this happens the once precisely IQF foods refreeze into a solid block, which means you have to defrost the entire package when cooking. And while freezer burned foods are safe to eat, the food will be drier, and less colorful and flavorful.

In order to make sure you’re spending your hard-earned money on quality food, take an extra moment in the freezer aisle, and don’t choose the first bag of frozen mixed veggies (or fruit!) you see. 

  • Choose packages from the back of the freezer shelf. The freezer finds at the front are exposed to the greatest change in temperature from the constant opening and closing of the freezer doors. The packages at the back of the shelf are less likely to partially thaw and refreeze. 
  • Gently shake the packages before you buy. It’s normal to feel some larger chunks of frozen potatoes in that bag of shredded hash browns, for example, but you should also be able to easily break them apart even through an unopened package. If the bag feels like a solid block, that’s a sure sign the potatoes have thawed and refrozen significantly at some point. Those hash browns will take longer to thaw and may even turn to mush in the breakfast casserole you have planned — and nobody wants to wake up with that.

Do you have a foolproof freezer-aisle hack to share? Tell us about it in the comments below.