Tips for Increasing the Shelf Life of Frozen Foods
by Reader Contributors
What can you do to preserve the freshness of frozen foods and prevent freezer burn? Our frugal readers share their best tips for increasing the shelf life of frozen foods.
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
Lately, I’ve had a number of things go bad in the freezer. Is there anything that I can do to increase the shelf life of frozen foods?
The problem is not only from freezer burn, but also some things seem to lose their flavor after being frozen for a while. I hate putting things into the freezer and have them ruined before we get to eat them.
What Can You Do to Increase the Shelf Life of Frozen Foods?
Dollar Stretchers hate waste and wasting food tops the list. So we asked our frugal readers to chime in on this topic. Read on for the many helpful tips and tricks they had to share on how to increase the shelf life of frozen foods.
Don’t Over Buy
Air is frozen foods enemy. Vacuum sealing or wrapping things tightly in butcher paper helps. Even perfectly wrapped foods do have expiration dates, so don’t over buy.
Know What Freezes Well
Some foods just don’t freeze well, and others change flavor after freezing. You’ll find a chart that might be of help here.
Rewrap Before Freezing
The best thing I have found is to never freeze most things in the original container. I take all my meat, bread, cheese, out of the original packaging and re-wrap them in freezer paper (available at Walmart).
Read the instructions for wrapping on the box. With proper wrapping, I have stored many items long past the expected date.
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Vacuum Seal Frozen Foods
I’ve had excellent results by freezing everything I think is going to be frozen for an extended period of time in vacuum sealed bags. The unit is a bit pricey, but I never get any freezer burn and no one here has noticed any deterioration in flavor.
I buy my bags on eBay from someone who sells bags that work well with the FoodSaver® sealer and are less than half the cost. The seller says they are bags they use in their business. I’ve been buying those same bags for over three years and have never had any problems.
What Temperature Is Your Freezer?
To avoid freezer burn, your freezer has to be the right temperature. I keep my chest and upright freezers at 0 degrees.
Also, air and moisture cause freezer burn, so I usually wrap my meats first very tightly with a heavy plastic wrap and then put them in freezer bags and squeeze as much air out as possible. You can also try to suck out the air with a straw and then quickly seal bag. Wrapping first individually also allows you to just take one or two pieces of meat out of the bag and reseal it. Wrapping in freezer paper works well also.
You can’t leave meat packaged the way it comes from the grocery store in the tray with clear wrap over the top because there is too much air in the package. My grocery store has begun shrink wrapping the better quality meats, which eliminates air in the package.
Keep Your Freezer Shut
Is this an upright freezer that is opened often? Maybe it is not cold enough. The cold air escapes whenever the door is opened.
Or is it a fridge and freezer combo in an unheated garage? Cold weather during the winter can throw off the thermostat.
In any case, it does not sound cold enough or possibly the temperature fluctuates too much. Check with a thermometer and look for signs of thawing and refreezing.
Two Possible Problems
There are two things to check to alleviate these problems: the temperature of your freezer and the kind of packaging you are using.
First, the temperature of your freezer needs to be consistently at zero degrees or colder for foods to retain maximum freshness. This is especially important if yours is a “frost-free” model, as this feature tends to have less even temperatures overall than the more old-fashioned models. Invest in a thermometer especially made for freezers and check all parts of the freezer, as there may be some areas that are colder than others. If this is the case, reserve the warmer sections for things that will be kept only for a few days or weeks.
Packaging is the other thing that can lead to problems with freezer burn and/or off flavors. You need to use heavy duty plastic bags or freezer wraps but then you also need to be sure that you are pressing out as much air as possible. If you are not sure your plastic bags are heavy enough, you may want to use double bags. It is also important to date your packages, so you are using good rotation and using the oldest items first.
Love My FoodSaver®!
The best investment I ever made was a FoodSaver® Vacuum Sealer. I have had cooked and raw foods look like the day I froze them two years later with no loss of color or taste. I also use it for pantry items like flour, nuts, etc. They keep for much longer than the “expiration date.”
The machine is a little pricey and so are the bags. I have given the machine and rolls as gifts, and no one ever asked me to take it back.
Make Sure Freezer Is Functioning Properly
If things are going bad in your freezer, it’s time to see if it is getting shut down or shorting out.
The best way to tell if you need a repair is to put ice cubes in a bag. Let it sit for a day or two and then take a look. If they are melted at all, it’s time to get your stuff out and call a repairman or replace the freezer.
Your food’s worst enemies are air and temperature. I suggest you buy a vacuum sealer and re-package foods to freeze.
Also keep your freezer very, very cold. This will buy you time if the power goes out as well. Never waste money on an upright freezer, because they never get as cold as a chest freezer and when you open the door all the cold air escapes. This is very expensive and inefficient.
Three Step Approach
To keep food fresh in the freezer, you need to do three things:
- Label and date everything. First in/First out is the rule of inventory! Check with your extension service for best to use by dates. Foods do not keep forever in the freezer, and certain foods hold better than others.
- Keep an inventory, so you know what you have. It is way too easy to lose that one container of pea soup. Also, take time to organize your freezer. We use plastic crates to organize.
- Make sure you are using the best packaging for freezing. Meats need to be rewrapped. The packaging that meat comes home in is not going to protect your expensive cuts from freezer burn. Use heavy duty freezer bags and good quality plastic wrap. We double wrap items like pork chops by wrapping individually and then placing a number sufficient for a meal into a freezer zipper bag. The bag is then labeled and dated.
Sarah in Olathe, KS
Reviewed December 2021
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