By freezing leftovers before they go bad, you’re saving food, time and money, but all that good work will go to waste if you’re not freezing your food properly.
And if you don’t defrost food correctly you run the risk of making yourself ill.
Avoid these seven mistakes to make the most of your freezer and your food.
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1. Your freezer is too warm
If you want to get the most out of your food, the temperature in your freezer needs to be between -18°C and -20°C.
At that temperature range your food will be safely stored, as the cold prevents most bacteria from growing or producing toxins and the chemical reactions that lead to spoilage are slowed down.
Fortunately, most of the freezers we’ve tested have an accurate recommended thermostat setting.
This means you won’t have to play around with the controls or temperature dial as you’re setting up a new freezer.
But room temperatures can vary widely over the course of a day and at different times of the year, and this proves the downfall for many freezers.
The best freezers keep food safely frozen 24/7 – whatever the temperature is outside.
But some struggle to maintain an even temperature, causing food to partially thaw and re-freeze as the temperature outside fluctuates.
You might consider buying a freezer thermometer to check on the temperature in your freezer as the outside temperature rises or falls to extremes.
See all of our expert freezer reviews to find the models that excel at maintaining a stable temperature all year round.
2. Keeping your freezer too full
You want to avoid cramming every drawer or shelf so full of produce that it will prevent air from circulating properly.
This could force the compressor to work overly hard, eventually leading to a fault.
That said, a fuller freezer will work more efficiently than a sparsely filled one, so aim for a happy medium when filling it up.
A good freezer doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg – check out our run down of some of the best cheap freezers.
3. Waiting too long to freeze your food
The closer to its peak quality you freeze an item, the better it will be when defrosted. Try and identify food you won’t use right away and get it in the freezer as soon as possible.
Also be sure not to ignore use-by dates. Freezing won’t kill off bacteria and toxins, so any that have developed on your food after the use-by date will still be there once it’s thawed. Don’t risk it.
For more tips, check out our full guide on how to store food safely in the freezer
4. Not removing the packaging
Struggling to find room in the freezer after a big shop is just one of life’s little niggles. But there’s hope.
Pre-bought frozen food often comes in a box and a bag. Recycle the box before you put the food in the freezer and you’ll have more space for other food.
Often the items are loose in a box, such as fish fingers. If you open a box but don’t use everything, consider transferring unused items to a freezer bag and then ditching the box.
5. Not labelling your food
Identifying which food makes up that frozen block in a frosted freezer bag can be a tricky task, especially months after you put it inside.
Labelling bags before freezing will help cut out the guesswork.
6. Placing hot food directly in the freezer
Recently cooked food should be left to cool on the counter for a maximum of 1-2 hours before freezing. Otherwise, the warmth will send the temperature in the freezer skyrocketing.
Not only will that compromise the quality of other food inside by potentially thawing it slightly, but it will also force your freezer to work harder to cool down, pushing up your energy bills.
Consider splitting leftovers into individual portions, so you can defrost just what you need later on.
7. Defrosting at room temperature
When you take your food out of the freezer, it’s important to defrost it safely before cooking or eating it.
Avoid defrosting food at room temperature, as most bacteria on your food will grow at temperatures of above 8°C, putting you at increased risk of food poisoning.
The safest way to defrost food is in the fridge. It’s best to plan ahead for this and allow enough time for food to fully defrost.
Small items can defrost overnight, but others can take a day or two. Large items like turkeys can take up to four days to fully defrost in a fridge.
Alternatively you can thaw food in a microwave using the defrost setting.
If you opt for this method, make sure you are ready to cook it immediately after as the microwave could raise the temperature of the food to a level where bacteria can start to flourish.
Find our more food freezing tips in our guide to storing food safely in the fridge.