These tips will help it keep its cool.

By Betty Gold
March 12, 2020
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Being able to freeze food is one of those weird everyday activities that we unquestionably take for granted. Practicing proper food preservation isn’t only important to our wallets and the overall impact we make on the (massive) food waste issue in America—it’s key to avoiding foodborne illness and other bacterial issues that can be easily caused by improper storage.

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As we all sit and reflect on the not-exactly-modern marvel that is our freezer, remember that it’s not always foolproof. Here are the most common mistakes you’re making when freezing food, and how to fix them so you and your family stay safe (and so your ice cream is still kickin’ come springtime).

1
Not filling it with enough food.

Believe it or not, a full freezer retains cold temperatures much better—and more efficiently—than an empty one. When filled, the frozen food will help to maintain the ice cold temperature inside the cavity, so the freezer itself won’t have to work as hard to keep the temp sufficiently low (makes sense, right?). Just don’t overdo it and pack the freezer too tight, because you need to maintain airflow inside.

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2
Setting the temperature too high.

The ideal freezer temperature is at most 0ºF, so go ahead and set your freezer as low as it’ll go. This is best for long-term storage (and safety)—but if you’re getting sore biceps from scooping rock-hard ice cream, keep it in the freezer door where the temp will be a bit warmer.  

3
Defrosting food at room temperature.

Ever scrambled to decide what’s for dinner and haphazardly left a package of frozen chicken breasts on the countertop to defrost before leaving for work? This is a very common mix-up—and a nightmare when it comes to food safety. Thawing poultry, fish, or red meat on the countertop leaves your meat in the temperature danger zone—40ºF to 140ºF—for too long, meaning bacteria may form before the meat is fully defrosted. Defrost (slowly) in the fridge or (quickly) in the microwave instead.

4
Just tossing it into the abyss.

Most freezers don’t come with the useful shelves, drawers, and bins that our fridges have. Why does this matter? Fast forward to yourself two years from now, pulling out a plastic baggie with a single deteriorated hot dog or UCO (unidentified cheese object), wondering why you thought it would be OK to just “throw it in the freezer.” A plastic bin ($12, containerstore.com) will help keep your odds and ends organized.

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5
Freezing foods together.

Rather than dumping all your blueberries, banana slices, or burgers into Ziploc baggies and throwing them in the freezer, freeze them in a single layer on a sheet tray first. Allow them to fully harden (24 hours should do it), then transfer everything to a single baggie or storage container. When you can actually pick out a single strawberry without grabbing an entire weird freezer-burnt blob of them, you’ll understand why.

6
Opening the freezer during an outage.

If you experience a power outage, resist the temptation to open your freezer to survey what’s inside. This will help preserve your food as long as possible. When the power comes back, check to see what’s still fully frozen and toss everything that feels soft or even slightly thawed—we promise, evading food poisoning is well worth it.

7
Keeping food too long.

Even frozen foods have an end game, especially in the taste and texture department. Check out this handy guide to see exactly how long you can store every type of ingredient in your icebox.

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