It may not be a traditional holiday season this year, but there's no doubt we'll still be packing a lot of food into our freezers as we prepare for the celebrations ahead. It's the worst time of year for a freezer to break down, or to find that some of your food has been damaged.
Check out our guidelines for how to get the most into your freezer - and the most out of it.
Freezer running tips
How cold should your freezer be?
The temperature must be at least as cold as -18°C (0.4°F) but it can go down to -25°C (-13°F) .
Don't underfill your freezer
The next piece of advice is not going to be an issue for most people at this time of year – 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're 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 don't overfill it either
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 and can lead to inedible food. Ideally, you shouldn't fill your freezer beyond 85% of its capacity.
When you add food, shuffle things around and leave small gaps to ensure that cold air can reach items already inside.
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 so the freezer doesn't have to work too hard.
Freeing up space in your freezer
If your freezer is overfull and you need to free up space for air to circulate, 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.
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 or cross out items as you remove them.
Defrosting your freezer
If you only have an icebox or a smaller integrated freezer, and you're planning to store more food for the holidays, 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.
If you've never had to do this, we've got a step-by-step guide on defrosting a freezer.
Food storage and safety
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. So much so that it's actually easier to list the foods that don't freeze well. So, here are the types of food you should try to eat while they're fresh:
- 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.
Keep a veg bag
To reduce waste and make the most of the food you have, stick a Ziploc bag in your freezer. Whenever you're cooking and have leftover veg, add it to the Ziploc bag. When the bag 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 and you can't separate out a portion, 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.
If you’re freezing liquids, don’t fill the container up to the brim. Try for about three-quarters of the container, or leave at least two inches at the top. This space will allow the liquid to expand when it freezes. Trying to hack frozen orange juice from the inside of a freezer is not a great way to spend an afternoon.
Thaw your food in the fridge, not on the counter. 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. A higher rated fridge will use less power and will save you money in the long run on energy bills.
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.
Many manufacturers will now give you an estimate of how many bags of food a freezer can hold. It's much easier to get a sense of the storage volume you need than a measurement in litres.
If you're interested in buying a new fridge freezer, check out our review of the Haier HTF-456DM6 Cube.