A freezer can be your best friend if you're cooking for two or just you—whether you're dividing up a family pack of chicken, preparing make-ahead meals to save time or storing leftovers for another day.
If you do a lot of freezing, you likely own an upright or chest freezer. If you don't freeze foods often or are short on space, a compact freezer is best. Whatever you choose, keep these guidelines in mind:
- The freezer should be in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place, on a level surface away from the stove or sun.
- The inside temperature should be 0° or lower. Because a refrigerator's freezer cannot always stay this cold, this type of freezer is best used for short-term storage.
- To ensure that food is safely frozen, keep a thermometer in the freezer and check it regularly.
Wrapping It Up
How well you wrap your food for freezing will affect its quality when you're ready to use it.
Freezer burn, which produces dry spots on food, is the result of moisture loss and exposure to air. So be sure to wrap foods tightly, pressing out any excess air. (Cut any freezer-burned portions away before or after cooking.)
Use durable, clean and leak-proof containers. If a container won't close tightly, it's best not to use it. You'll also want to invest in a supply of freezer bags, plastic wrap, aluminum foil and freezer paper. Vacuum sealers are also handy for wrapping packages since they will remove air from the package.
Always allow hot food to cool to room temperature before freezing; once it's cool, freeze immediately. Freeze foods in a single layer, and stack them after they're frozen.
It's safe to freeze meat or poultry in its supermarket wrapping, but this packaging is not airtight. Unless you plan to use the meat in a month or two, the USDA advises that you double wrap these packages or place them inside a freezer bag.
To find what you've stored in the freezer, keep these tips in mind:
- Write the food type, freeze date and any reheating instructions on a freezer-friendly label.
- Organize containers by food type, rotating older food to the front so you'll use it first.
- Keep a list of your frozen foods and freeze dates nearby, checking things off as you use them.
What Not to Freeze
Not all foods respond well to freezing. Mayonnaise, yogurt, sour cream, milk sauces, gravies, and cream and custard fillings can separate when frozen.
Lettuce, tomatoes, watermelon, citrus fruit sections and cucumbers will become limp in the freezer. Cooked eggs can get rubbery. Fried foods lose their crispness.
Natural cheeses may crumble more. Cooked potato chunks can become soggy or gritty, although mashed potatoes or twice-baked potatoes do freeze well.
Thawing foods at room temperature encourages bacteria growth, so defrost in the fridge or microwave. Thawed food can be refrozen, but its quality may decrease.
The chart below offers general guidelines for storage. But a good rule of thumb if your food has a "funny" odor or looks strange when thawed is—don't eat it, throw it out!
Recommended Storage Times
- Bacon, ham, hot dogs, lunch meats or sausage: 1-2 Months
- Casseroles, cooked meat, gravy, poultry, soups or stews: 2-3 Months
- Uncooked ground meat, uncooked poultry giblets: 3-4 Months
- Chops, steaks or uncooked roasts: 4-12 Months
- Uncooked poultry parts: 9 Months
- Uncooked wild game: 8-12 Months
- Egg substitutes or egg whites, uncooked whole poultry: 12 Months
Source: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service