The Beauty of A Freezer - And An Apology to My Mother-in-Law

Just after college, I moved to New York City. I earned next to nothing and shared a studio apartment with another girl. Many weeks, I had to decide between dry cleaning my clothes or eating. So, I learned how to hand wash many dry-clean-only garments. I grew up a lot in those first few years - I think everyone should live in NYC for a few years when they are young adults. But I digress...

Our kitchen was the size of a closet, and I used to scowl at the waste of space that was our freezer. It rarely contained more than stale, stinky ice. Meanwhile, junk was squirreled away in every crevice of the apartment. Ah, those were the days!

Now many years later, things have changed quite a bit. For one, I now have more space. I also have new roommates (husband and kids) and cook A LOT. To avoid having to go to the grocery store every two or three days (and to allow me to take advantage of compelling sale items), we purchased an inexpensive free-standing freezer and I make full use of it. Defrosting has become a part of my (almost) daily routine.

My mother-in-law will laugh at this. She has long been a huge proponent of the freezer and has stifled laughter on more than one occasion when I asked how long this or that (on the plate in front of me) had sat in her freezer. Mom - I stand corrected and I apologize for my rudeness!

My process is pretty simple. When I'm making dinner, I decide what's for dinner tomorrow, remove the required components from the freezer and place them in the refrigerator. In 24 hours, almost anything under 5 pounds will thaw in the refrigerator. The rule of thumb is: 24 hours for every 5 pounds. Some foods I defrost carefully in the microwave (e.g., sausages), then cook right away.

The USDA has issued a few guidelines one should observe about freezing food.
  1. Not everything freezes well. Eggs (in the shell) and canned goods - NO. Cream sauces, mayonnaise, lettuce - not so much. And raw meat and poultry freeze better than when they are cooked since they lose moisture during cooking.
  2. Freezing at 0 degrees F keeps food safe almost indefinitely and has no impact on the nutritional content. The length of time spent frozen only impacts its quality. Freezer burn does not make food unsafe but severely dries it out, which might make it unpalatable. If you put your meat or poultry directly into the freezer in the packaging it came in from the store, you should use it within 1-2 months because air can penetrate that wrapping and dry it out. If you want to stow it away for longer, wrap it more securely in foil or paper freezer wrap.
The USDA also issues guidance on the freezing limit (at 0 degrees F) to preserve quality (not safety):
Item Months
Bacon and Sausage 1 to 2
Casseroles 2 to 3
Egg whites or egg substitutes 12
Frozen Dinners and Entrees 3 to 4
Gravy, meat or poultry 2 to 3
Ham, Hotdogs and Lunchmeats 1 to 2
Meat, uncooked roasts 4 to 12
Meat, uncooked steaks or chops 4 to 12
Meat, uncooked ground 3 to 4
Meat, cooked 2 to 3
Poultry, uncooked whole 12
Poultry, uncooked parts 9
Poultry, uncooked giblets 3 to 4
Poultry, cooked 4
Soups and Stews 2 to 3
Wild game, uncooked 8 to 12
Happy Freezing!

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