Problems arise when the freezer becomes a vast wasteland of unidentifiable, unorganized contents. Frozen foods don’t keep forever -- while some foods remain safe when frozen for long periods, their quality will decline if not eaten within a certain timeframe. Here are some government guidelines for food storage safety to help you know how long you should freeze things.
To avoid food waste, give some thought to how you use and stock your freezer. With a little advance planning and some regular attention, your freezer can be your best kitchen ally for saving time, money, and effort. Here are seven good freezer organization ideas:
1. Label everything that goes into your freezer.
To do this, you can buy freezer labels or you can make your own with a permanent marker and mailing labels, masking tape, or freezer tape. Whichever you decide to use, keep the label materials close to the freezer so you have them within easy reach every time you open the freezer door. On the labels, always include the contents of the container and the freezing date. You might also want to include preparation instructions for the contents, or a “use by” date. Even if food is pre-packaged and clearly identified, write the date of purchase on the package so you’ll know how long it has been in your freezer.
2. Store sauces and soups in plastic freezer bags
A handy freezer organization tip is to maximize storage space is to store sauces and soups in plastic freezer bags. Expel extra air and close the seals tightly, then place the bags flat in the freezer. After the bags are frozen, they are easily stackable and easy to retrieve. Just make sure that the bags you choose are labeled for freezer use. Otherwise, your foods might suffer from freezer burn.
3. Freeze food by serving sizes
Another helpful storage and organization tip is to freeze foods by serving size whenever possible. For example, if you are making a big batch of spaghetti sauce, freeze it into portions that are equal to a normal serving size for your family. This way, you won’t have to thaw an entire batch when you only need a portion of it. Ice cube trays are great for freezing things that you usually use in very small quantities, such as lemon juice, tomato paste, and pesto.
4. Keep a freezer inventory form
It’s helpful to keep a list or a freezer inventory form so that you can keep track of what is in the freezer, when it needs to be consumed, and what you need on your next shopping trip. While you can do this digitally if you’re disciplined, it’s usually best to keep the list or form on or near the freezer for easy access when something needs to be marked off or added. Having a paper copy of the form allows other family members to use the form, too.
5. Organize your freezer by food groups
As much as possible, try to organize your freezer by food groups. Store poultry in one spot, meat and fish in another, and put frozen vegetables and fruits together. Group sauces and soups together, dairy items, and breads. Grouping your foods will help make items easier to find and will also make it easier to see what you need when you make your grocery list.
6. Choose square or rectangular containers
Be square. Choose square or rectangular containers for freezer storage, which will fit better and use space more efficiently than round containers. Square freezer bags work well, too. Clear containers make it easier to see the contents. If you’re concerned about clear containers becoming discolored when storing tomato-based and other contents, try spraying the inside surfaces with a vegetable spray before filling and freezing. This may help avoid or minimize any discoloration.
Remember, not everything freezes well. Foods that you should avoid freezing include salad greens and fresh herbs, eggs in the shell, and many raw vegetables. To take advantage of summer produce, cook or blanch the vegetables before freezing. Sour cream will separate when frozen, and some items, like milk and yogurt, will change textures.
When thawing frozen foods, always remember to defrost them properly for food safety and to maintain their quality. If you plan ahead, you can thaw food in the refrigerator which is the safest and best way. Some portion sizes will thaw overnight in the refrigerator, while larger items (particularly large cuts of meat) may take two days or longer. If you don’t have time for refrigerator thawing, you can always use your microwave to thaw things more quickly. Be sure to prepare, cook, and consume frozen foods soon after thawing and to always follow food safety guidelines.