In the Pantry: Freezer Fundamentals

According to a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, food waste costs the average American family $2,275 per year. Where's that money--and food--going? In the trash. One simple way to help save money and food is to utilize your freezer. This week on "In the Pantry," Aida Mollenkamp explains the fundamentals of how to best preserve your food in the freezer.

Stock up on freezer bags, freezer-safe containers, aluminum foil or parchment paper, masking tape, and a Sharpie pen. Choose freezer bags that have a label on them so you can easily mark your food. You'll use the foil or parchment paper to protect your solid foods. As for masking tape, you'll use it to label your containers. Masking tape can withstand cold temperatures and won't peel off with moisture.

Use freezer bags for anything liquid, such as stock and soups. Make sure the liquid is cold before you put it in the freezer bag, and freeze the liquid flat so that it can be easily stacked. When you want to defrost a soup or other liquid, remove the freezer bag and store it in the refrigerator on a plate or in a bowl to thaw. Smaller items could take anywhere from 8-24 hours for the food to defrost. Larger food items could take several days thaw.

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Freeze fruit individually.
Mollenkamp explains: "If you buy a lot of berries in the middle of the season, get a good rimmed baking sheet, line it with that aluminum foil or parchment paper, and spread out the fruit." Once it's frozen through, toss the fruit into a freezable container and it's ready for use whenever you need it. For items like leftover tomato paste or chipotle paste, put tablespoon portions out on the rimmed baking sheet, and freeze them through.

Make use of ice cube trays!
If you're not using your ice cube trays for water, use them to freeze things like pestos or pureed herbs. "You can just drop them in the bottom of the tray, fill them with water and you have herb ice cubes that you can use in things like stocks and stews," said Mollenkamp.

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Avoid freezer burn. "One of the easiest ways to do that is to make sure you're always freezing foods that are cooled down and not hot," said Mollenkamp. "Whenever you're freezing something in a plastic container or freezer bag, squeeze out as much air as possible so that there's no air, which encourages freezer burn." If you have something that's going to be marinated, such as chicken teriyaki, put it in the bag and freeze it right in the marinade. "That way it freezes and marinates, and it's ready to go as soon as you defrost it," she said.

Date your freezer packages. Identify what you're freezing and include its expiration date, not the date you put it in the freezer.

Organize your food in the freezer. Once you've prepared your food for the freezer, you'll need to make sure you arrange your food in the proper order. First, remember to pack your freezer as full as possible because this helps the freezer operate at its top efficiency and stay its coldest. Also? Make sure your freezer is set to the proper temperature. Food safety experts recommend that you set your freezer at zero degrees to maintain the quality of the food you are storing.

For more cooking tips and tricks, check out host Aida Mollenkamp's book, "Keys to the Kitchen."

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