Don't underfill your freezer
The first piece of advice is not going to be an issue for most people at the moment – don’t leave your freezer too empty. It should be at least 70% full in order to run efficiently. The cold temperature in a freezer is largely maintained by the stored food and the walls, not the air inside. Cold goods keep each other cool and help to bring newly added items down to the correct temperature.
If you are building up your freezer contents or emptying it rapidly, fill milk jugs or large water bottles with cold water to take the place of food. This will help to keep your freezer running well.
BUT be wary of overpacking your freezer. Air should be able to circulate within the compartment. Cramming in too much food can compromise its ability to keep everything frozen.
How cold should your freezer be?
The temperature must be at or below 0 degrees. Really, the colder the better.
Freeing up space in your freezer
If you need to free up space, transfer items from cardboard and Tupperware packaging into Ziploc freezer bags. Do the same with half-empty boxes and you should gain a chunk of space immediately.
Each time, smooth the bag over the food to remove air pockets and allow for the most efficient storage. Make sure to cut out the thawing and cooking instructions from boxes and store the information with the correct bag.
If you’re freezing liquids, don’t fill the container up to the brim. Leave space for it to expand when it freezes.
As food will deteriorate in quality if it’s left too long, make a note of the contents and a use-by date on the Ziploc bag or container. Store food with the longest freezer life at the back or bottom of your freezer so that produce that should be eaten first is easy to spot and access.
For a pro touch, keep a list of stored food on a magnetic whiteboard or pad on the front of the freezer, with use-by dates, so you can see at a glance what you have and plan meals. Erase items as you take them out.
If you only have an icebox or a smaller integrated freezer, it may well be worth defrosting your fridge-freezer to maximise the volume of storage space before filling it. Not only is this good practice for the longevity of your appliance, it will free up a surprising amount of space.
How long can you store food for?
As a rough guide, everything in your freezer is safe to eat for at least three months.
Foods you can’t freeze
Most foods can be frozen. Here’s a list of foods that can’t:
- soft cheeses (Brie, Camembert, Stilton, cream cheese);
- mayonnaise and other egg- and cream-based sauces (they’ll curdle when you defrost them);
- eggs in their shell (unless you want an egg-splosion);
- veg with a high water content such as cucumber, lettuce, celery and cabbage.
Don’t add too much all at once
To protect your freezer and the food you’ve bought – because now is not the best time to have it go on the fritz and lose your supplies – don’t add too many items all at once. If you’ve bought a lot of food, add it in batches where possible.
Make a veg box
To reduce waste and make the most of the food you have, create a veg box in your freezer. Add any vegetables you have left over after cooking a meal. When the box is full, use it as a base for stock or soup.
Freeze small items on a sheet
If you’ve ever wasted food because it’s all frozen together in a giant lump, try this tip. Place your food to be frozen (berries, veg or slices of meat) on a baking tray and stick it in the top of your freezer. Once it’s frozen, take it out and store it in Ziploc bags.
Larger items can be separated with foil or baking paper and put straight into bags.
Thaw your food in the fridge. If you leave certain foods, like a chicken, out on the counter to reach room temperature, they may start to cultivate bacteria before they’re fully defrosted.
Never try to cook raw poultry or large joints of meat from frozen. Fully defrost them in your fridge first.
In the event of a power cut
Don’t open your freezer door. Once the power comes back on, go through your food. Anything that is still frozen can be left inside. Any items that have started to thaw need to be removed. You can still eat them but they should be prepared and cooked right away.
If you’re concerned about the state of any food, don’t risk it. Throw it out.
To protect your food from freezer burn, every food item that goes in your freezer should be in airtight packaging.
Freezer burn takes the form of grey or brown dried-up patches. It’s caused by oxidation when air reaches the food and dries it up. It’s not dangerous but it’s not very appetising: it’ll affect the taste, smell and appearance of food.
Freezer burn can also occur when warm food is placed in a freezer. Make sure all food is cooled to at least room temperature before you freeze it.
Setting up a new freezer
If you buy a new freezer, give it at least four hours once set up and plugged in before you start storing food. A fridge freezer will need about 24 hours to reach the correct temperature and stabilise. Freezers are filled with liquid that cools the compartments. The liquid needs time to settle after being shaken around during transport.
When you set it up, don’t push it flush against the wall. Leave a space so air can circulate around it for the most efficient operation.
One it’s up and ready, add food in batches. Especially if you’re adding food that’s chilled or at room temperature, give each batch time to freeze before adding more food. Don’t try to fill it all at once or you risk overloading your freezer and spoiling your food.
Buying a new freezer
If you’re buying a new freezer now, this is what you should look out for.
Energy efficiency rating
All new machines are rated from A to A+++. Older machines are rated from G to A+++. A+++ is the highest rating.
Chest freezers will have more space but will generally need to be kept in a utility room or garage because of their size and the fact that they open from the top. Upright freezers are generally the same width as a fridge and may fit under the counter.
New freezer picks
At the moment, freezers are in high demand. Online retailers have low stock and have sold out of a number of models. However, this situation is changing all the time and new stock has arrived over the last few days, so keep checking retailers or sign up on their websites to be notified when a product you’re interested in comes back in stock.
Here are some of the best freezers we could find available now.
A good small option from Amazon in the UK is this Russell Hobbs RHTTF67W table top freezer in white, for £111.50. It has a 66-litre capacity (about three bags of food shopping) and an A+ energy efficiency rating.
If you're after something a bit more spacious, AO.com is selling this Hotpoint Day 1 Ultima HF1801EFAA.1 integrated frost-free upright freezer for £670. It comes with a sliding door fixing kit. It's also rated A+ with a 190 litre capacity (that's 10 shopping bags of food).
AO.com also has this frost-free integrated upright, the AEG ABB8181VNC, with a 204-litre capacity (approximately 11 shopping bags' worth). It's A+ rated and is selling for £820.
For more appliances advice, read our article on how you can slow the spread of infection using appliances you already own and how to clean your home for coronavirus.