Your friends – the fridge and freezer
Of all the modern technologies that can help us manage our food better the fridge and freezer are the best, and sometimes the worst, of our friends in the kitchen.
They are great at helping us keep food fresh for longer and freezing food that we want to save for a later date. But it can be easy to forget about what is in them and this food usually then becomes waste.
First of all, make sure the temperatures are correct. The temperature of your fridge should be between 0-5°C, ideally 4°C. Your freezer should be at -18°C. If there are no temperature readings on your appliances then start with the middle of the temperature dial.
For more on your fridge, freezer and some tips and challenges check out the following:
Top Shelf – This is the warmest part of the fridge and best for ready to eat foods like yogurt, cheese and sauces. Cooked meats and leftovers should be stored in sealed containers on the shelves underneath. If there’s space, keep milk here too – it’ll keep for longer than it would in the door rack where it’s warmed by warm air whenever the door is opened.
Bottom shelf – As this is the coldest part of the fridge, keep raw meat, fish and poultry here. These should be stored in their sealed packaging or in sealed containers. Keeping these here also means there is less chance of their juices dripping and contaminating the whole fridge.
Bottom drawers – These are for fruit and veg and are designed to keep them crisper. Some come with humidity controls to retain moisture which will help certain vegetables last longer. Remember, certain fruits should be kept out of here.
Door racks – Because the temperature in these can vary a lot each time the door is opened it is a good place for eggs, condiments, jam and fruit juice. A lidded compartment is ideal for eggs and butter.
The right containers – these have 2 purposes, they will maintain the quality of the food and help you make the most of your space without it becoming a mess. Use proper freezer containers (with a lid) that can be stacked and freezer bags thick enough to keep moisture in and cold air out. Thinner or perforated bags (like shopping bags) will not protect your food properly.
Squeeze out the air – where food is exposed to air when freezing, there will be freezer burn. When storing food in bags squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing. When storing sauces, soups, or stews in containers, cover with cling wrap and leave a bit of space at the top of the container so the the liquid, which expands, won’t freeze to the lid.
Freeze in portions – Whenever possible, pack food in small containers. The faster food freezes, the fresher it will taste when it’s thawed. Large portions in large containers freeze more slowly and often you may not use all of it when thawed.
Fresh fruit and veg – because of the high water content freezing fruit and veg is tricky – they tend to loose their consistency after thawing. So, if you have a glut of fruit or veg, you can puree them first then freeze them or spread them out on a freezing tray and when frozen, put them in a freezer bag. This means that the won’t clump together when frozen. For many veg it is best to blanche them first.
Freeze properly – wait for hot foods to cool down to room temperature before you freeze them. Then leave space around the container in the freezer so the cold air can circulate around it. This will accelerate the freezing and then, when the item is frozen it can be stored properly.
Store strategically – we often use whatever containers are in our kitchen to store food in our freezer. Different sized containers can mean a lot of wasted space. Use consistent containers and stack bags of frozen food. Remember to always date your containers.
Use cubes – we all have ice cubes but what about stock cubes or even wine cubes? If you make your own stock, or if there is any wine left at the bottom of that third bottle (!), freeze in individual cubes for when you need them for cooking.
Re-freezing – if you thaw frozen food you should not re-freeze it unless it has been cooked first. Then it can be refrozen.
Thawing – the best way to maintain the flavor and texture of food you have frozen is to thaw it slowly in your fridge. But for most this isn’t realistic, and may take a long time as well. So, the following are some thawing tips:
- A large surface area is the key to both quick freezing and defrosting. Where possible freeze food in this way.
- If you want to defrost food quickly first submerge it in cold water. Then ensure it doesn’t get too hot (over 5°C) while defrosting.
- If you defrost food in a microwave, cook it, or use it, immediately afterward. Use the defrost setting (or 30 percent power) to thaw foods slowly in the microwave and stir every now and then to ensure proper thawing.
In general, food with a Use by Date should be kept in the fridge. If you are using this food then try and put it back in the fridge as quickly as you can after using it. As the saying goes ‘milk left out for an hour is the same as a day in the fridge!’
A full fridge and freezer works more efficiently because, once the food has cooled, the cold temperature will be maintained by the contents and less cold air is needed to circulate. If you have lots of space free, fill plastic bottles half full with water and use them to fill gaps. Alternatively, fill the freezer with everyday items you’re bound to use, such as sliced bread or frozen peas.
Bread shouldn’t be stored in the fridge – it will actually speed up the staling process.
Make sure your fridge and freezer are maintained properly – this will ensure food is cooled properly and saves on electricity costs too. If there is ice build up in your freezer then defrost it – best to do this once a year. If there is frost build in the back of your fridge there are a number of different things that could be wrong (drain hole blocked, door seals broken, low refrigerant gas) but best to get it checked straight away.
Freeze Your Spending – Use the contents of your freezer to plan meals
Use Fridge and freezer chalkboards or whiteboards