If you have a freezer full of food, you have made a major financial investment. If you grew the food and prepared it for freezing, you also have many hours of time invested. Considering these investments, it is important to take a few precautions to ensure against loss in case of a power or mechanical failure or other problem that may cause the freezer to stop or malfunction.
Thermometer. Purchase a refrigerator/freezer thermometer and keep it in the freezer. If your freezer goes out for any reason and is off for some time, you can see how warm the freezer has become. Knowing the highest temperature that food has reached is the most important factor to determine whether or not the thawed food in your freezer is safe. Having a freezer thermometer also gives you more control over the quality of your frozen food. Keep the freezer temperature at 0 degrees F.
Power source. It’s best to plug your freezer into a dedicated outlet that is not connected to a circuit protected by a GFI (Ground Fault Interrupter) device. GFIs are easily tripped by power surges, thus shutting off power to your freezer.
Power failure. If for any reason you anticipate an extended power failure (i.e., snow storm, construction in the area. etc.), reduce the freezer temperature to -10 or -20 degrees. The colder the food, the more time it takes to thaw.
Check freezer. Check the freezer occasionally to be sure it works properly — particularly if the freezer is not in an area that you walk by daily.
Length of Time Food Will Remain Frozen
As soon as your freezer goes off, determine how long the problem will last. If it is a power failure, ask the power company how long the power will be off. If it is a mechanical failure, check the instruction booklet that came with your freezer to see if you can remedy the problem. If not, schedule a repair service.
Once you know when your freezer is expected to be operational again, assess whether you can leave food in the freezer or if you need to take additional steps to ensure that your food remains frozen.
Food in a full freezer will stay frozen about two days. Food in a freezer that is only half full may stay frozen up to one day. Keeping containers of ice in a partially filled freezer helps keep other foods frozen longer. Also, while the freezer is operating, less energy is required to keep the ice frozen than to keep empty space or air at 0 degrees.
When Food is Safe to Refreeze
When you find that your freezer is off, check the temperature in two or three locations. Then take a look at the packages of food. If foods still contain ice crystals and/or if the freezer is 40 degrees or less and has been at that temperature no longer than one to two days, then food that was safe when it was originally frozen should be safe now. It can be refrozen or cooked and eaten.
If food has been held at 40 degrees or less but kept at this temperature for some time, examine it more closely. If the color or odor of thawed beef, pork, lamb or poultry are poor or questionable, discard the meat away from possible human or animal consumption. If eaten, the food may cause food poisoning.
Often you cannot tell by the odor whether vegetables, shellfish and cooked foods are spoiled. Bacteria multiply rapidly in these foods so don’t eat or refreeze any that have thawed completely. If ice crystals remain in these foods, it’s usually safe to refreeze them. However, the texture will be mushier, the nutritional value may be lower, and the flavor and color may not be top quality.
If the freezer is above 40 degrees and you know it has been at that temperature more than two hours, then the food probably is not safe. Fruits and bread products are exceptions. Fruits ferment when they start to spoil, but a little fermentation won’t make fruits unsafe to eat. Fermentation will eventually spoil the flavor and odor of fruit. You can refreeze completely thawed fruits if they still taste and smell good. Or you can use them in cooking and baking or for making jams and jellies.
Refreezing Foods to Maintain Quality
For best quality, refreeze food quickly. The faster food freezes, the smaller the ice crystals that form within the food. When food freezes slowly, larger ice crystals develop and pierce the cell walls within the food and cause the food to be mushier and to lose more flavor, nutrients and color.
The same rules apply to refreezing as to the initial freezing.
* Turn the freezer to its coldest setting.
* Use moisture- and vapor-proof packaging and close packages securely.
* Put no more unfrozen food into the freezer at one time than will freeze in 24 hours — usually 2 to 3 pounds per cubic foot of freezer capacity.
* Place packages at least 1 inch apart so cold air can reach all sides. Place thawed food against the freezer coils. Your freezer instruction booklet will tell you where the coldest portion of the freezer is.
* After the food is frozen, rearrange the packages so they are stored close together. Change the temperature setting back to normal so the freezer maintains 0 degrees.
* Use refrozen and oldest foods first. Keep a list near the freezer, and check off packages as they are used. This lets you quickly see what food remains and plan for its use.
Cleaning and Removing Freezer Odors
If your freezer is full of warm, dripping or spoiled food, you need to take one or more of the following steps to clean and deodorize it before refilling it:
* Take out all removable parts and wash them with warm water and mild soap or detergent. Also, wash the gaskets and door liner. Rinse well and dry.
* Wash the interior walls with a solution of 2 tablespoons baking soda to 1 quart warm water.
* Pour baking soda onto large, flat pans and place pans on the freezer shelves to absorb odors.
* Spread charcoal onto pans and place on shelves inside the freezer. Leave the freezer empty
and allow it to run at its highest temperature for a few days to allow odors to be absorbed.
* Get and follow manufacturer’s directions for commercial products available for removal of
refrigerator and freezer odors. These products often can be found at hardware, grocery or
If these methods do not satisfactorily eliminate odor problems, drippings from meat or fish may have leaked into the freezer’s insulation or gaskets. The problem may require a refrigerator technician to replace the liner or the insulation.
Source: Colorado Cooperative Extension
Mini Turkey Meatloaves
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 small red pepper, finely chopped
¾ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
½ cup plus 6 tablespoons spaghetti sauce, divided
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3 tablespoons quick-cooking oats
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 pound lean ground turkey
In a large bowl, combine the egg, onion, red pepper, ½ cup mozzarella cheese, ½ cup spaghetti sauce, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, oats and seasonings. Crumble turkey over mixture and mix well.
Coat six jumbo muffin cups with cooking spray. Fill with turkey mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Drain.
Tops each loaf with 1 tablespoon spaghetti sauce, 2 teaspoons mozzarella cheese and ½ teaspoon Parmesan cheese. Bake 5 – 10 minutes longer or until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees and the cheese is melted. Let stand for 5 minutes before removing from pan.
Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at email@example.com.