How to use your freezer (and deep freeze) effectively

Jen Klein

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We all have freezers, but are we using them most effectively? Are items regularly in and out of your freezer, or is it the black hole of food in your house? If you were to clean it out, would you find food from the last century in there? If it just a repository for ice cream? How can you use your freezer -- and your deep freeze -- more effectively?

Woman looking in freezer

Freezers actually work best when they are full. The more frozen stuff inside, the less work the compressor has to do to make sure everything stays frozen. It's like frozen items create their own insulation. Freezers, however, shouldn't be so full and packed that you can't get to anything. Every once in a while, it's a good idea to think about how you use your freezer, clean it out and start fresh.

Clean it out regularly

For the new year, clean out your freezer. Just like you occasionally clean out your refrigerator, you also need to clean out your freezer. If you live in a cold climate, it's easy to do this in the winter: just put all your frozen items on the porch while you clean and sort.

Also like the refrigerator and other appliances, freezers need some regular maintenance and checkups. Check the gaskets and seals and replace them if needed, and, if yours is not a frost free or auto-defrost model, defrost it regularly, too.

Wrap and package appropriately

Before anything goes in the freezer, make sure it is wrapped and/or packaged appropriately. This will vary according to the item you are freezing. Meats should be wrapped in plastic and foil, or in an appropriately sized freezer bag with excess air removed. Plastic storage containers should be appropriately sized for the contents -- but not overfilled. Liquids expand with time and may push up that lid during initial freezing.  Every once in a while check the seal on what is in the freezer to make sure all is still okay.

Label, label, label

Label everything that goes into the freezer with not only what it is, but the date it went in. Label makers are terrific for this -- but a permanent market will do, too. Don't trust yourself to know what everything is; a lot can happen in six months and even you may forget.

First in, first out

If you are regularly putting things into the freezer, make sure you are taking things out and using them! If you have two chickens in the freezer, use the one that has been in the longest first, then the next one. Use the older waffles before the newer ones, and so on. Provided they are all still good to eat, of course.

Keep an external list

So you don't forget what you have in there, keep an external list, preferably on the front of the fridge. Consult this list on a weekly basis when you are making your meal plan. Again, don't depend on remembering what is in there weeks down the line. "Out of sight, out of mind," has become a saying for a reason, after all.

SHORT TERM = freezer, longer term = deep freeze

If you have both a regular freezer and a deep freeze, consider slightly different uses for each. Keep quick access, often used every day items such as flash frozen veggies and ice cream in the regular freezer and meats and prepared food in the deep freeze. The deep freeze is definitely for longer term storage.

Rotate items from the deep freeze to the regular freezer as necessary. If you cook several casseroles at once, for example, consider keeping one in the regular freezer for use sooner and the rest in the deep freeze for later use - and move one up from the deep freeze to the regular freezer when the first one gets eaten. If you belong to a CSA farm and process a lot of food items in the summer months, the deep freeze will be particularly beneficial for keeping the sauces and pestos and other processed items for later winter use -- and for keeping some of those flash frozen veggies longer until you need them.

When in doubt, throw it out

Even in the freezer, items can go bad. If you can't remember putting something in the freezer, and it's not labeled, don't take a chance: throw it out! Besides, freezer burn is not at all tasty, even in technically okay items.

It's easy to take your freezer for granted. With some thought and planning, however, your freezer and deep freeze can serve you and your family better than ever. Ice cream, anyone?

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