If your freezer seems like a chest of buried treasure that you have to dig through to find something to thaw and eat, you’re not alone. We rely heavily on the freezer to preserve most of our fresh foods. Not only is freezing foods quicker and easier to do than canning or drying, but it also locks in the freshness, flavor, and the nutrient content, provided you do it correctly. Keeping the faithful freezer organized, and cleaned out, however, can be a challenge.
To help you successfully freeze your favorite meats, seasonal fruits, and vegetables, we’ve put together a list of important freezer storage information so you’re not throwing anything away.
- Select quality, ripe produce to freeze. Preserve your bounty of fresh fruit or vegetables as soon as it ripens, and as close to harvest, as possible. Freezing preserves the quality, but doesn’t improve it.
- Freeze food at 0°F or colder. Chest freezers are best to use for foods you will be freezing for months. The freezer compartment of a refrigerator isn’t as cold, so it is ideal for short term use – freezing foods you’ll be preparing within a month or two.
- Always cool cooked meat, sauces, soups, and other foods before placing in the freezer.
- Make sure containers used for freezing are durable, leak proof, and moisture-proof. Heavy plastic freezer bags, freezer boxes, and aluminum, plastic, or glass containers with a good seal are suitable. Glass canning jars can be used for freezing, just be sure to leave at least an inch headspace at the top of the jar to allow for normal expansion during freezing, so the glass won’t break.
- Don’t skimp on freezer paper when wrapping meat. Double-wrap or double bag meat, especially meat with protruding bones, to prevent tears. Meat wrapped in butcher paper can be placed inside a plastic bag, and sealed for further protection.
- Date and label content on food packages before freezing. Use the oldest packaged foods in the freezer first – “first in, first out.”
- When placing multiple containers of food in the freezer leave enough space between each one for the cold air to circulate and freeze rapidly. Once frozen, organize and stack food packages as desired.
How Long Can You Freeze Foods?
While freezing preserves food, and stops bacterial growth, it doesn’t exempt food from taking a hit on flavor. That’s why it’s good to follow these guidelines for how long to keep frozen foods. A general rule for freezing most foods is a maximum of 8 to 12 months. The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers this approximate list of freezer storage times, when the food has been properly prepared and packaged, and kept frozen at 0°F or below.
Note: This doesn’t mean the food will be unsafe to eat, but rather that it will lose flavor and texture. For best quality, they suggest using the shorter storage times:
Trouble Shooting Freezer Tip:
According to Carole Hupping, author of Stocking Up III, “If your frozen vegetables are mushy, you may have blanched them too long. If they’re mushy and they have big ice crystals on them, then they froze too slowly, due either to the fact that your freezer isn’t cold enough or you packed them in too tightly when first freezing them.”