Most catering businesses keep at least some frozen produce on hand and acknowledge its practical benefits.John Porterdescribes how to get the most out of this useful kitchen resource
The pros and cons of using frozen food in a catering business have been well debated. Some operators make a virtue of using only fresh, seasonal and locally sourced produce, and can charge accordingly. For others, serving meals from the freezer allows them to pitch menu prices at a level that appeals to cost-conscious customers.
Most businesses fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, producing meals using a mix of fresh, chilled and frozen foods. Research for the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) published in February found that 78.1% of operators always have frozen food in stock, and 68.6% serve some frozen food every day.
The 105 businesses surveyed came from across the catering industry, and the vast majority of those using frozen food, 91.4%, serve it as a component of a meal produced on site, rather than serving a ready meal straight from the freezer.
Duncan Marsh, general manager of Bernard Matthews Foodservice, says of the BFFF findings: "The survey shows seven in 10 chefs believe there is unjust stigma and snobbery attached to frozen, with 70% knowing that frozen foods are at the peak of their quality."
Bernard Matthews offers a range of frozen British turkey products. "Poultry freezes really well, a particularly important factor if your kitchen is limited on space," adds Marsh. "With fresh produce, on the other hand, significant deterioration occurs, to the extent that they can have lower nutritional value than a frozen equivalent."
Birds Eye Foodservice quotes research showing that levels of vitamin C in frozen vegetables such as peas, broccoli and green beans are higher than in vegetables stored for a few days at chilled or ambient temperatures. The company offers vegetables quick-frozen shortly after picking, including peas and soya beans, and four variants of steam bag vegetables.
Susan Werro, of the Society of Food Hygiene Technology (SOFHT), says it is important that chefs understand the effect that freezing has on food. "Freezing does not kill all bacteria; it simply prevents its growth.
"Foods should be rapidly frozen to below -18°C to ensure both product quality and safety on defrosting. The risk of bacterial growth is still present when you defrost food. Consequently, it is extremely important that all foods are defrosted completely and safely prior to use."
If using a microwave to defrost food quickly, "Remember that raw foods must be defrosted completely prior to cooking," warns Werro. "This is because a core temperature must be achieved when cooking to control levels of harmful bacteria. If there are frozen areas within the food, which have not been thawed in the microwave, the temperature achieved will be lower than expected."
For operators, the reasons for using frozen food are usually practical. Storage, convenience and cost control are all cited by Christian Taylor, owner of the Blue Crush Bar & Diner in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, as reasons for using frozen chips from McCain. These include rustic chips served alongside fresh local battered fish, and sweet potato fries served with marinated Moroccan leg of lamb and sticky jerk ribs.
While the Blue Crush makes some of its own side orders on the premises, such as fresh tempura onion rings, Taylor believes the benefits of frozen chips are clear. "In the summer we can get through eight boxes of frozen chips a day, and we have three deliveries a week. We couldn't store that quantity of fresh potatoes. And the fact that we can buy in bulk means that using frozen produce is very cost-effective for us."
Preparing fresh chips would increase staff costs as well as requiring the business to find extra kitchen space. "In addition, we get far better portion control and no wastage - you're not having to throw out chips that have been cut to the wrong size."
Consistency and cost control are also important for operators managing menus and margins across multiple sites. Stephen McIntyre, head of catering at Maclay Inns, found 23 menus across 26 pubs when he took up his post in 2009.
Maclay Inns now uses three sizes of chip from the Britain's Pride range supplied by Lamb Weston across the estate, as well as roast potatoes and honey-roast parsnips for its pubs' Sunday lunch menus, and onion rings and wedges in some pubs as part of a sharing platter.
McIntyre says: "Chips have to give good plate coverage. The Britain's Pride product actually loses less weight during frying and is a longer chip, which helps to give an optimum yield, meaning more servings per case than with our previous chip."
â- Always label and date goods and try to use all foods within two to three months. The longer a product is stored, the more quality it will lose when thawed.
â- Place food items in the coldest part of the freezer, if possible, until completely frozen.
Defrosting â- Defrost foods between 5Â°C and 10Â°C
â- Ensure that the risk of cross-contamination with raw and cooked foods is eliminated
â- If product is ready to eat, return it to a refrigerator immediately after it has defrosted
â- If the product is raw, cook it as soon as it has defrosted, or return it to a refrigerator and cook within 24 hours
â- Defrost foods completely before use
â- Use calibrated temperature probes to check that food has defrosted
â- Thoroughly clean and disinfect areas used to defrost foods.
â- Wash hands before and after handling frozen foods
Source: Society of Food Hygiene Technology
WILL IT FREEZE?
Foods that freeze well â- Meat and poultry - when frozen there is little change in structure, and the freshness and nutrients are locked in
â- Fish and seafood - often frozen at sea within hours of being caught, while fresh fish may have been in transit for some time
â- Sauces, soups, stock - but remember liquid expands when frozen, so don't overfill containers
â- Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and rice
â- Dense fruit, such as apples and pears - which can be peeled and blanched to prevent browning
â- Bread, cakes and baked goods - wrap them well, as contact with frozen air causes "freezer burn"
Foods that do not freeze well
â- Fresh milk and cream - frozen desserts such as cheesecake use cream with a higher fat content, which freezes better
â- Fruit and vegetables with a high water content such as lettuce, cucumber, strawberries and melon
â- Mayonnaise - the ingredients will separate when frozen
Take care with… â- Eggs - whole eggs will crack if frozen in the shell, but raw egg whites and yolks freeze well once out of the shell
â- Herbs - herbs retain their nutrition but often lose their crispness or turn brown when frozen. Freeze herbs for cooking, not for serving on the plate
FROZEN FOOD FACTS
Ten reasons to consider using frozen food, from the BFFF
â- Value Making a dish from scratch can cost an average of 30% more than buying in the frozen counterpart
â- Portion control Frozen fish, meat and poultry products are usually sold in consistent sizes per pack, meaning there are no extra-large or small portions
â- Less wastage Preparing vegetables in-house means 10% of the product is wasted
â- No unsold food The long shelf life stops goods spoiling before they are cooked
â- Stock control Frozen food allows for advance purchase and longer storage
â- Reduced labour costs Frozen food reduces the time spent on prep
â- Customer demand Frozen food allows outlets to cope with fluctuations in customer menu choices and cover numbers
â- Quick service Pre-prepared frozen meals are quick and convenient to reheat and require little preparation
â- Nutrition Freezing preserves food in its freshest state, locking in the nutritional qualities, fresh flavours and natural textures
â- Traceability Frozen food manufacturers keep documentation on where their food has come from, enabling food to be traced back to its exact point of origin
3663 0370 3663 100
Bernard Matthews Foodservice 0845 519 4097
Birds Eye Foodservice 0800 028 9997
British Frozen Food Federationwww.bfff.co.uk
Lamb Weston/Britain's Pride 0800 963962
Society of Food Hygiene Technology 01827 872500