Do you find yourself staring into the freezer, sure you had some frozen burgers, but can't figure out where you stashed them? It's time to organize that freezer!
Whether you have a top, side, or bottom freezer (or a dedicated chest freezer in the garage or basement), organizing and packing it will not only be economical—it will make life easier. Unlike the fridge, a freezer should be full, with enough space for airflow. An empty or half-empty freezer uses more electricity to keep items cold.
It's essential to keep your freezer at or below 0 F. Monitor the temperature with a reliable refrigerator or freezer thermometer. If you have a power outage, avoid opening the freezer door until the power is restored. Discard any food that drops below 40 F for more than two hours.
The door is the warmest part of the freezer, so it's a great place to store nuts, whole grains, butter, and bread items. Meat, vegetables, prepared foods, and leftovers should be stored on the shelves.
First: To Freeze or Not to Freeze?
Many foods and leftovers are freezable, but there are some exceptions.
- Fruits and vegetables with high moisture content, such as melons, tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, and tender leafy greens, will be fine if you plan to use them in soups or casseroles.
- Sour cream, yogurt, and mayonnaise will separate, and the freezer will alter the texture of cream cheese and other spreadable soft cheeses. If you must freeze cream cheese, use it to make a cheesecake and other baked goods.
- Dishes with cooked pasta can be frozen, but the pasta should be slightly undercooked for the best results.
- Cooked potatoes freeze well, but don't store them in the freezer raw; they'll turn black.
- Never freeze foods in unopened cans: the cans can explode when the liquids inside expand. Instead, remove the contents of the cans to freezer containers or bags.
- Eggs will expand and explode when frozen in the shell. Remove the eggs from their shells and beat them; freeze the beaten eggs in ice cube trays, then put the cubes in a freezer bag.
- Fried foods don't freeze well; they lose their crisp texture, and any breading becomes mushy.
Use the Right Containers
When you transfer any food to a container, make sure to label it with the name and the current date or "best by" date. When freezing meat, poultry, and seafood, add the weight to the label.
- Plastic containers: Sealable plastic containers are lightweight and budget-friendly and they can smoothly go from the freezer to the microwave. When buying plastic containers, make sure they are BPA-free and freezer-safe. Some plastics break down in the freezer.
- Glass: Freezer-safe glass containers are environmentally-friendly and many can go from the freezer to the fridge to the oven. Canning jars are a good option as well, but to avoid breakage, make sure you leave headspace, so the food has plenty of room to expand. Choose wide-mouth jars and leave at least 1/2-inch of headspace. Shoulder style jars with a narrower opening will need extra headspace. Some manufacturers place an embossed freezer fill line on their jars.
- Wraps: Plastic wrap, foil, and freezer paper are suitable for meat, leftover meatloaf, breads, and seafood. Double wrapping provides insulation.
- Bags: When freezing food in bags, whether vacuum-sealed or zip-close, flatten the food as much as possible for faster defrosting.
Organize by First In First Out (FIFO)
Label foods with the date you stored them in the freezer and keep the oldest (first in) items in front or on top so they will be used first. This ensures older items won't stay in the back or on the bottom, which can reduce quality and flavor over time.
Storage Bins to the Rescue
Bins and dividers help keep vegetables, meats, and leftovers separated and easy to find. They're especially helpful in deep bottom freezers and large deep chest freezers. They can be stacked and quickly shifted to get to what you need.
Prevent Freezer Burn
Freezer burn isn't dangerous, but it can significantly change the texture and flavor of food. Extra air around the food is the reason some foods get that frosty, freezer-burnt appearance. A vacuum sealer is ideal, but if you don't have one there are a few alternatives.
Here's one easy way to remove air from a zip-close bag. Fill the bag and close it to within one inch. Lower the bag of food into cold water, just to the top; the pressure of the water flowing around the outside of the bag displaces the excess air, pushing it out the small opening. Quickly seal the bag, dry it, and freeze.
The next best way to avoid freezer burn is to pack food into perfectly-sized containers or bags. Alternatively, you can tightly wrap food freezer paper or in two sheets of heavy duty foil before placing it in a bag or container.
For some items, such as meatballs, spread them out on a tray and freeze them until solid, then transfer them to a vacuum sealer bag, freezer bag, or container. Some leftovers may be frozen in ice cube trays, then popped into bags for more extended storage.