If saving money on food is important to you, then you should look at your freezer as another savings account. Not as a place to keep money, but as a place to keep food that otherwise would go bad or be thrown out. It's also great having a freezer because you can stock up during sales and save even more money that way.
However a lot of people don't take full advantage of their freezers because they don't know what can and can't be frozen.
The first thing you should know is that food that is frozen will always be safe. Freezing slows the movement of molecules, causing microbes to enter a dormant stage, so food can be frozen indefinitely because it prevents the growth of microorganisms that cause both food spoilage and food borne illness.
However there is a big difference between safety and quality and this is where time guidelines come into play. This is an important distinction, because it means that if you have food in your freezer that you have forgotten about, you can still use it safely. Because it might not have as good a flavour, it's best to use older cuts of meat for instance in something like a soup or a stew to which you add stronger flavoured ingredients such as tomatoes or wine. This will allow you to still use and enjoy the food you paid your hard earned dollars for.
Obviously, it's best to not get into this position, which is why I suggest you inventory your freezer at least twice a year and keep a list of contents posted either on the side of the freezer or in your household manual or planner. Or you could just use the lid of your freezer like they do at thehappyhousewife.com (Read this post for more on organizing your freezer and for freezer inventory forms.)
According to the USDA, once food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking, although there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through thawing. After cooking raw foods which were previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked foods. If previously cooked foods are thawed in the refrigerator, you may refreeze the unused portion. Freeze leftovers within 3 - 4 days. Do not refreeze any foods left outside the refrigerator longer than 2 hours - 1 hour in temperatures above 90'F.
If you purchase previously frozen meat, poultry or fish at retail store, you can refreeze it if it is completely sealed and the package hasn't been opened. I keep an insulated bag in the back of my car for when I shop, and I also keep several large Ziplock freezer bags in my shopping bag. When buying frozen meat or poultry, I put them into these bags before packing up my groceries. That way if they thaw on the way home there is an extra layer of protection.
What to do in a Power Outage
If the power goes off, a freezer full of food will usually keep about 2 days if the door is kept shut. A half-full freezer will last about a day. The freezing compartment in a fridge may not keep foods frozen as long. If the freezer is not full, group the packages together so they retain the cold more effectively. Separate the meat and poultry items from other foods so if they begin to thaw, their juices won't drip onto other foods. The best thing is to put them into a garbage bag and then wrap in newspaper as an extra layer of insulation.
When it is freezing outside and there is snow on the ground, the outside can be a good place to keep food until the power comes on, but you have to take precautions. Pack your food into a cooler or other leak proof container and store it in a closed shed or the trunk of your car where it will be safe from animals and out of the sun.
Once your freezer is working again, check your food. If there are still ice crystals in it you can refreeze it safely. If it has thawed you will have to cook it before freezing. This is where having a slow cooker or even a couple can be very handy, and if you live in a part of the country where power outages frequently occur, investing in a couple of slow cookers could save you a lot of money.
Freezer Storage Chart
For the ideal time to freeze various foods, check the chart here.
Here is a quick list of which foods you can and can't freeze :
Foods that Freeze Well
Meat, poultry and fish all freeze well. Raw meat will keep its quality for a longer period of time than cooked.
Breads and baked goods freeze well. This includes bread, muffins, pies, cookies and pizza crusts. Freeze in individual portions for easier thawing.
Chicken and beef stock freezes well either in ice cubes or in small containers.
Butter, bacon grease and duck fat can be frozen for later use.
If some of your family still eat rice, you can cook ahead a big batch and freeze it in individual portions.
Foods that can freeze but will change in texture
Fruits and vegetables all soften, and those with high water content do not freeze well. These are best used in cooking.
Cream can be frozen but may separate when thawed. The best way to freeze cream is to whip it first, freeze dollops on a cookie sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag.
Cheese will become crumbly and hard to slice, so it's best to grate it or slice it before freezing and then use it for cooking.
Herbs lose their texture but retain their flavour so they are great for adding to cooked dishes, but you can't use them as a garnish.
Raw eggs can be frozen either whole or separated into yolks and whites (see this post. )
Cooked eggs that are scrambled or used in a recipe such as quiche or frittata freeze well. Boiled eggs don't freeze well because the whites get rubbery.
Fried foods lose their crispness, but are fine if you reheat them in the oven. (Great for sweet potato fries)
Salty fatty items such as bacon, sausage, ham and smoked fish will only keep for 1 to 2 months because the salt causes the fat to go rancid. However I have found that if I partially pre-cook my bacon and then freeze it in individual portions it keeps quite well for up to 3 to 4 months.
Foods that can't Freeze
Foods made with gelatine don't freeze
Vegetables such as lettuce, celery, radishes and cucumbers become a watery mess. However I have successfully flash frozen chopped celery and used it later for cooking.
You can't freeze whole melons, but you can freeze melon balls and use them later in drinks or desserts.
Meringue toppings become tough and rubbery. If you want to freeze lemon meringue pie, just freeze the filled pie crust, then add the meringue and cook before serving.
Custards and cream puddings can separate. However, with saying that, I have successfully frozen trifle which contains pudding, so it's worth trying.
Mayonnaise will separate.
Opened wine. Leftover wine can be frozen in ice cube trays then transferred to freezer bags. Great for cooking. (keeps 6 months)
Nuts. Because of their high oil content, nuts are prone to going rancid. Freeze them and they will stay fresher longer (keep 1 to 2 years, depending on type)
Fresh ginger. Don't leave this to shrivel in your fridge. Cut it into slices, freeze in a Ziplock, and take out as needed.
Citrus fruit. For adding flavour to water and other drinks, slice lemons, limes and oranges and flash freeze, then store in a Ziplock. Alternatively you can put one or two small slices into an ice cube tray and fill with water, then use as ice cubes for your drinks. This also works with berries and is a great way to add some flavour to your daily water.
Tomato paste. You rarely need a whole can at once. Freeze dollops of the leftover paste on a cookie sheet or in ice cube trays, then transfer to a freezer bag (keeps 3 months)
Maple syrup. This keeps forever in the freezer so you will never have to waste one single delicious drop. Just make sure if freezing glass jars or bottles to leave room for expansion.
Spending a little time organizing your freezer, stocking up on containers and bags, and learning what you can and can't freeze can save you a lot of money as well as time.
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