Thursday, April 17, 2014

Freezer Bags: An Effective & Compact Way to Store & Organize Frozen Food

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While it's certainly preferable to eat homemade meals that've been freshly made, we all have those days when we'd rather just defrost something than cook. :) Basically this translates into, "Food, please magically appear. NOW." Hahaha. After all, defrosting food is not exactly labor-intensive. :)

If you're like me, and like to freeze homemade meals you've pre-prepared for a future date, you'll probably need to make the most of every inch of valuable real estate in your freezer. I don't know about you, but until I found a better system for frozen food storage, my freezer would frequently run out of space. I'd try to squeeze in the very last container, which would never quite fit. Of course, this would drive me nuts, because then I'd have to remove everything and rearrange stuff just so that ONE item could fit. :)

Or, here's the other scenario: After beaming with pride and self-satisfaction that I'd manage to fit every single item into the freezer without an iota of wasted space, I was faced with the following realization: "What if I needed to actually remove something from the freezer?" Hahaha. Yes, it appeared that my little inner "happy dance" was a bit premature. :) I'd pack the items into the freezer so perfectly, like a tightly fitting 3D jigsaw puzzle, that any future attempts to extract the single precarious, load-bearing container that was propping up everything else -- you know, the one and only container I needed to defrost for dinner that night -- was just asking for it. :) The next time I needed to remove something, I'd probably need to call in for backup. ;) One wrong move and "BAM!" At any moment, that little game of "food Jenga" could turn into a rushing avalanche of heavy frozen plastic food containers that'd come crashing down on my head, or worse, my toes. And let me tell you, nothing hurts more than a frozen food crash landing onto your toes or other delicate body part (OW!), not that I'd know anything about that. :)

Even if you have uniform-sized containers, it can sometimes be tricky to fit items into your fridge. After all, chances are pretty good that whoever designed the freezer section of your fridge hadn't taken the exact dimensions of your frozen food containers into consideration. :) There's always going to be that one last container that won't perfectly into the end of a row. Then, what are you going to do? :) If you're packing a lot of food in there, you need to make the most of that space, and those awkward shaped holes aren't helping any.

OK, I know there are those heat-activated, vacuum-sealed contraptions that require custom bags specifically designed to fit the thing, but since the seal is permanent, they're a pain-in the neck anytime you want to easily reseal your food, which, if you're like most people, can be fairly often. As a testament to how convenient they are to use, I think my mother probably still has hers tucked away in the back of a cupboard somewhere, but I don't think it's seen the light of day in a LONG time. :) (Seriously, that thing is ancient! Hahaha.) Plus, if you run out of those specialty bags when you're in a pinch, good luck trying to find a place where you can quickly get some replacement bags. No thank you. :) I'd rather use something a bit more commonplace and easier to find and use.

The other issue is freezer burn. I've even used those supposedly air-tight, lock-top containers and then bagged them in plastic freezer bags on top of that and it doesn't seem to make much of a difference; they STILL get freezer burn. Even if you remove all of the air from the plastic bag, there's still the container itself, which you have to fill to the rim to get rid of the air, and even then, there are no guarantees. Of course, no one likes having to throw away items covered in freezer burn. Not only is it wasteful, but it's not exactly pleasant when you're handling the affected food, which smells (and tastes!) rather nasty. Yes, I've tried to salvage freezer burned food before because I can't stand wasting food, and the results were almost always disastrous. It can be a very frustrating experience, because even if you think you've gotten rid of all those pesky air pockets, the freezer burn beastie can still attack your frozen food. The fact remains -- those plastic containers just don't cut it when it comes to freezing food.

Do the above experiences sound familiar to you? If so, fear not. I have the perfect solution. :) For those of you who are trying to figure out a way to maximize and better organize the space in your freezer, here's a simple but effective idea: Instead of using plastic containers to store leftovers, which are bulky and leave food more susceptible to freezer burn, use freezer bags. They take up far less space, are easier to fit into your fridge, and can be used for storing almost any kind of food -- fruits and veg, soups, sauces, chilis, etc.

(1) For the best results, wait until cooked food cools completely (you don't want toxic chemicals from
melted/heated plastic bags to seep into your food), then pour the food into a plastic freezer bag. Press out as much of the air as possible (make sure you squeeze out every last air bubble!) and then double bag your items, both of which will help prevent freezer burn. If you do this, your frozen items will remain usable for a pretty long time. Take it from me: Some of the items in my freezer just might've been left over from the Ice Age, but nonetheless, I've managed to pull them out intact and unscathed. :)

(2) To save the most space, first stack them horizontally like pallets in your freezer and uniformly flatten each one with your hands (or a metal tray) before stacking the next one on top. Once they are frozen, they're much easier to "re-file" vertically, which I've found to be the easiest way to access them, unless you're storing them on freezer shelves that consist of wire racks. In that case, horizontal storage works best, especially for some of the thinner items, since this way, the bags won't accidentally slip through the slats. :)

(3) Also, it's a good idea to mark the outer bag first with a description and date of your food BEFORE you fill the bags with food. ;) Even if you use permanent marker, like I do, it's harder to write on them once the food's inside, not to mention that the marker tends to rub off that way, due to the inevitable condensation that occurs after you transfer the food to the bags.

(4) Make sure the bags you use are actually freezer bags and not plastic sandwich bags, which don't protect against freezer burn. Also, I've found that the double zipper kind -- and not the kind with the "sliding" zips (!) -- are the best for preventing freezer burn, because they provide the tightest seal possible.

(5) Even though some items already come wrapped in plastic (like poultry, hamburger meat, etc.), it's still a good idea to put them in freezer bags, because they'll keep better that way in the freezer. With only the plastic wrapping, they're still susceptible to freezer burn, because the plastic packaging is way too thin and wasn't intended to be freezer burn proof.

Ziploc® brand Double Guard®
Freezer Bags
So, that's pretty much it. Thus far, I've found freezer bags to be the best defense against freezer burn and frozen food avalanches. :) Try the above strategies and I promise you, you'll be a lot happier. Your freezer will be able to fit more food and it'll be a heck of a lot easier for you to access it all without having anything unexpectedly fly out at you and clock you on the head. :) Your freezer will be neat and organized and as a result, a lot easier to keep clean. Yes, just by tackling this one small corner of your kitchen, your kitchen -- and maybe also your life :) -- will feel more orderly. You will have achieved frozen food nirvana. :)

There's nothing like a bit of organizing to cleanse the soul and put your mind at ease. If nothing else in your life is under control, then at least there will be order in this one small space of the universe. :) And if a sense of calm doesn't wash over you, then maybe you need to organize the rest of your kitchen. Hahaha.

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