Storage Tips

What's Your Freezer IQ?

October 18, 2017

Think about your freezer. Is it the resting place of half-eaten ice cream containers? Or most-likely expired pizza? Have you given up on food and stuffed jeans or sweaters in your coldest drawers? Look, your freezer doesn’t have to be a dark, cold, scary place. Well, it should be dark and cold… but not scary!

In fact, you probably know more about that chilly chest than you think, say self-proclaimed “freezer cooking evangelists,” and authors of From Freezer to Table, Rachel Tiemeyer and Polly Conner. After years of sharing freezer-friendly menus and cooking party tips at The Thriving Home blog, the two Missouri-based cooks have learned the ins and outs of freezer storing and thawing.

Want to see where you lie on the freezer savvy spectrum? Try this quiz from Tiemeyer and Connor. (Psst—if you need a refresher, check our our handy guide!)

1. Most frozen food can remain safely frozen for:

  1. 3 months
  2. 12 months
  3. Like, forever!
  4. I have no clue.

2. Which of the following food items do NOT freeze safely?

  1. Eggs in shell
  2. Tomatoes
  3. Canned food (still in cans)
  4. Mayonnaise

3. Freezing homemade meals destroys:

  1. All bacteria and parasites that might be in the food
  2. Nutrients in the food
  3. Everything I like about good food
  4. None of the above

4. According to food safety experts, what temperature should your freezer register at all times to keep food safe?

  1. 32°F
  2. 15°F
  3. 0°F
  4. Any of the above will freeze food safely

5. True or False? It is safe to freeze meat or poultry directly in its original store packaging.

6. In 15 seconds, can you name three safe methods for thawing frozen food?

7. True or False? Once a food has been frozen and thawed, you should not freeze it again.

8. The coldest spot in the freezer is:

  1. Right next to the vent where the cold air comes out.
  2. Since cold air sinks, it’s the bottom shelf of any freezer.
  3. The ice box. It’s filled with ice.
  4. The rear center. It’s the most insulated point.

9. What is the ideal number of participants at a freezer cooking party or in a freezer club?

  1. 12+ (The more the merrier!)
  2. 8
  3. 6
  4. 2 (I’m an introvert. Please let this be the right answer!)

Answers

1. C. Like, forever!

The USDA guidelines state, "Food stored constantly at 0°F will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage." Pretty great, right?

2. A. Eggs in shell and C. Canned food.

You can freeze almost any food safely, with the exception of these two. While mayonnaise does not freeze and thaw well (the texture gets funky), it is safe to freeze it. Tomatoes do fine in the freezer either raw or blanched first, but they are best used in soups, stews, or a sauce later. Some other ingredients that can change texture as they thaw: celery, potatoes, citrus fruits, sour cream, fried food, and pasta cooked beyond al dente.

3. D. None of the above!

  • The USDA site says, "Freezing to 0°F inactivates any microbes—bacteria, yeasts, and molds—present in food. Once thawed, however, these microbes can again become active, multiplying under the right conditions to levels that can lead to foodborne illnesses." Basically, handle all frozen foods just as you would fresh food and cook them thoroughly. For a good guide on safe minimum internal temperatures various foods should reach will cooking, check the USDA.
  • There is little change in nutrient value during freezer storage.

4. C. 0°F.

Many freezers are mistakenly kept too warm. Track the temperature in your freezer with an inexpensive refrigerator/freezer thermometer.

5. True. Sort of.

This is a little tricky. While it is safe to freeze items in their original packaging, we wouldn't recommend it. That's because most of the time that kind of packaging is permeable to air, which can make your meat taste like lightly roasted cardboard. However, you can freeze unopened vacuum-sealed foods. No air is getting into those bad boys.

6. (1) In the refrigerator, (2) in cold water, and (3) in the microwave.

Raw or cooked meat, poultry, or egg products must be kept at a safe temperature during "the big thaw," according to the USDA. As soon as they become warmer than 40°F, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply. The most effective and safest way to thaw a freezer meal is to put it in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. The exact thawing time will depend on the size of the meal. Another safe thawing option is to place the food in a leak-proof plastic bag and immerse it in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. This still takes a bit of time, but it's quicker than the refrigerator option. The fastest option is to microwave-defrost food in a microwave-safe dish, according to your microwave's instructions. It can dry out food a bit.

7. False.

If the food is safely thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking. However, the texture and color may be compromised upon refreezing and thawing.

8. D. The rear center.

9. C. Six.

We've found that if you have more than six participants, it's "too many cooks in the kitchen." Fewer than six, and you'll have a hard time stocking your freezer.

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So, how many did you get right? Any surprises? Let us know in the comments!

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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8 Comments

BerryBaby October 19, 2017
As far as organizing, we have a stand up freezer in the garage. Each shelf has a designation, one all meat, another all break and breakfast food, bottom bin vegetables and fruit. Top shelf frozen soups and meals.<br />Inside fridge freezer, one side bread, ice cream, the other sude frozen vegetables, fruit. Sliding tray nuts and ice paks. Works out well for me. Love AntoniaJames method as well!
 
BerryBaby October 19, 2017
Tip....like your fridge, go through your freezer at least once a month. From my own experience, I was buying WAY much freezer food. You're at the store, you see a deal and end up buying multiple packs of stuff you never end up using. I have since learned to only buy what I am going to use. It keeps the budget down and the freezer nicely stocked with only things I use regularly.
 
Author Comment
Katie M. October 19, 2017
Smart tip! I need to do that with my own...
 
AntoniaJames October 19, 2017
Another tip . . . taking BerryBaby's advice a step further . . . is this practice that evolved over the years once I began doing a thorough review of my freezer contents in October as I prepare for Thanksgiving (more details here: https://food52.com/recipes/64818-recipe-for-peace-of-mind-thanksgiving-week?preview=true and here: https://food52.com/blog/8826-how-to-hike-a-mountain-and-serve-thanksgiving-dinner-on-the-same-day <br />I maintain and update every week a complete inventory of my freezer. It's easiest in digital form, of course. I keep mine on my Google Drive, which I can access on my phone, iPad and computer; I also download an updated version to the laptop I use for work, which is backed up to a separate iCloud drive and an external drive (necessary for my law practice). I do the same for all of my recipes and thought pieces on food.<br /><br />My freezer is two large drawers sitting under the fridge. Without a lot of rooting around, it's impossible to know everything that's in it. Having an updated list (organized by category of course) that I can see in document form as I'm planning my menus and grocery shopping makes it much easier (a) to use frozen items on a current basis, so there's very little that's old, and virtually nothing that I must throw out; and (b) keeps me abreast, easily, of what freezer staples need restocking, which of course, helps in planning my shopping / cooking / baking activities. Trust me. You simply cannot make best use of your freezer for efficient and enjoyable meal planning and cooking without such an inventory. Here's an example of how I integrate the inventory into my meal and cooking planning: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lThMHZjw8G5EMAug3mOhDAM_GxDErE6pJarjN5-ZgIE/edit?usp=sharing<br />In the words of the late, great Judy Rodgers, "Try this." ;o)
 
Author Comment
Katie M. October 19, 2017
Wow, super organized!
 
AntoniaJames October 19, 2017
Katie, as I've said before, this is nothing more than simple project management. Invest a bit of time to set up a system, and then use it. The time invested to do both of those will pay you back in efficiency and enjoyment many times over - and will save you money. Do it. ;o)
 
cookinginvictoria October 19, 2017
I've never done a freezer inventory, but it is such a good idea. My freezer is pretty full year round, and it is small, so I too have difficulty seeing exactly what's in it. I have just set up a freezer inventory now, inspired by AJ's masterful Google document. I have set it up with four boxes: Instant Meals, Helpers (sauces, frozen vegetables and chiles, etc.), Protein, and Meal Components to Build Upon (cooked beans, filled pasta, pizza dough, etc.). This comes at just the right moment because I have finished a very much needed reorganization of my kitchen and pantry. I curated and consolidated ingredients, put everything in labeled jars or containers (no more plastic bags cluttering up cabinets), and moved almost everything around for practicality and efficiency, organizing food items, dishes, and cookware by category. It feels like a completely new space!
 
AntoniaJames October 19, 2017
cookinginvictoria, I hope you find the freezer inventory to be an invaluable planning tool. I certainly do! It's particularly helpful just to be able to take a look at the inventory on those occasional nights when I must go to "Plan B" on the fly, i.e., when what I've planned just won't work, for whatever reason. I always have about a dozen items on hand in the freezer not earmarked for any particular meal, that are there to save the day when Plan B is the best option. ;o)