In this book, all references to a freezer mean a separate appliance for freezing only. The ice-cube section of a refrigerator is good for very short-term storage only, and "short-term" means days, not weeks or months. The separate freezing compartment of a refrigerator can hold food for weeks; a side-by-side freezer section can hold food for a few months. But, for long-term storage at 0°F, a separate household freezer is still your best bet.
Three types of freezers. There are three types of home freezers from which to choose. Upright freezers range in size from 6 to 22 cubic feet and may have 3 to 7 shelves. Chest freezers run from 6 to 32 cubic feet. Refrigerator-freezer combinations range in size from 2 to 16 cubic feet of freezer space. Freezers with the frostless feature save you the work of annual defrosting, and keep frost from building up on food packages. (Frostless freezers should be cleaned annually.)
The freezer size and type you buy will depend on your needs and available space. A chest freezer usually costs less to buy, and to run, but an upright may fit into your home more easily. Most folks agree that it's easier to find and remove foods from an upright freezer, too. In a combination model, the freezer is separated from the refrigerator section, having a separate door, either at the top, bottom, or side of the refrigerator. Check your space and your budget to decide which type is best for you.
Plan on 6 cubic feet of freezer space per person in your family. Then, if you can manage it, buy a freezer bigger than that. Once you get used to having a freezer, you'll have no trouble filling it.
Whichever freezer type you choose, place it in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated location. Before you start shopping, scout out a good location in your home, measure it, and check your doorway measurements to be sure the freezer you buy will fit through them.
Adjusting freezer temperature. Keep track of your freezer's temperature with a refrigerator-freezer thermometer. Put it toward the front of the storage area, fairly high up in the load of food. Leave it overnight — without opening the freezer — before you check it for the first time. If the thermometer reads above 0°F, adjust the freezer's temperature control to a lower setting. Wait another day and check the thermometer again to see if you adjusted the temperature correctly. When you've got the temperature just right, check the thermometer once a day. But, if your freezer has an automatic defrost, don't take a reading during the defrost cycle — it won't be an accurate reflection of normal freezer temperature.
Managing your freezer. For the most efficient use of your freezer, you must be organized. Think of your freezer as a warehouse or a food depository. You need to keep track of what's inside, when it went in, and when it should come out. "First in, first out" is the byword for the best in flavor and appearance in frozen food. The food is still safe to eat after 12 months, but may not be at the peak of its quality. As a rule of thumb, rotate your entire stock about every six months, or freeze only enough vegetables to last until the next growing season.
By grouping like with like in your freezer, your inventory will be more organized and your searching simplified. One shelf or section can keep vegetables, another fruits, another cooked foods or main dishes. Devise an inventory form to help you keep track of where each category of food is. You might put the chart on a clipboard hung on the freezer door handle or nearby. Then note what goes in, out, how much, and when. Don't forget to label each and every package clearly — in writing or symbols someone besides yourself can read! Legible labels and good packing in the freezer make inventory and food selection easy.
As you use your frozen food, keep a running check on your methods and packaging. If you notice that a particular bag, container, or sealing method isn't doing the job, make a mental note of it and try another procedure or packaging next time.
Caring for your freezer. Take care of your freezer according to the manufacturer's directions. By keeping the freezer defrosted, free of ice, and clean, it'll work better and cost you less to operate. A full or almost-full freezer is cheaper to run than an empty or almost-empty one. The higher the turnover — the more you use and replace frozen foods — the less your freezer "warehouse" costs per item.
If your freezer needs an annual or semi-annual defrost, do it while the weather is cold, preferably before you start planning your garden. During a defrosting in cold weather, not only can the food wait outside (in well-insulated boxes or coolers), but you can take a thorough inventory and then determine how much to plant in spring. If you have lots of green beans left in March, that's a clue that supply is exceeding demand. Put up less the coming year and fill that freezer space with something else.
To defrost your freezer, follow manufacturer's directions. If you don't have directions, remove food to a cold place — outdoors in a cooler, if the Weather is very cold or placed in a neighbor's freezer, or a locker. Unplug or turn off the freezer, and put in a pan or two of hot water or a blowing fan to help hurry the melting. DON'T use a hair dryer or other heating appliance, because the heat could melt or warp some of the materials on the inside of the freezer. As the ice loosens, scrape it off with a plastic windshield scraper or other similar tool. When all the ice is gone, wash the inside of the freezer with a solution of three tablespoons baking soda dissolved in a quart of warm water. Wipe dry, turn the freezer on, and put the food back in. Clean frostless freezers with a baking soda solution annually.
If your freezer develops an odor, put a piece or two of charcoal on a paper towel and set them in the freezer a few days.
What to do when the freezer goes out. if your freezer quits or the power goes out, there are several steps you can take to protect your frozen foods. First, set the freezer temperature at the lowest setting, then shut the freezer and DON'T OPEN IT UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. If kept closed, a full freezer will keep food frozen for 15 to 20 hours and food will stay below40°F for up to 48 hours. A half-full freezer may keep foods frozen for just under a day.
If the freezer will be off for longer, dry ice could save the day, if you act quickly. (It's a good idea to locate a source of dry ice in advance and keep the name and number handy for just such an emergency.) A 25-pound chunk of dry ice, carefully handled with gloves and placed on a piece of heavy cardboard on top of the packages of food, should hold a half-full freezer (10 cubic feet) for two to three days; if the freezer is full, it will carry you over for three to four days. (Use two-and-a-half pounds of dry ice for each cubic foot.) Be sure the room is well-ventilated when you're working with dry ice.
If dry ice is unavailable, pack up the food and use a locker or a neighbor's freezer.
If the food's temperature rises above 40°F — ordinary refrigerator temperature — check it over carefully and immediately cook it completely. It's always better to use thawed foods immediately. If you do refreeze thawed foods, use them as soon as possible. If the food shows any signs of spoilage — color or texture change, slipperiness, or off-odor — and has been over 40°F, don't take any chances — toss it out. A freezer thermometer is an excellent guide to freezer safety. If you don't have a thermometer, feel the food and take a guess. Anything that's still frozen solid, and still has ice crystals throughout, is safe to refreeze or use if you're quick about it.
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