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It’s 8:00 – do you know what’s in your freezer?

ice climbing in a big freezer I know Aunt Toby always sounds a bit like the ant in the fable who ends up with the frozen grasshopper at his front door, but thinking ahead is always a good idea. So, we’re going to take a tour of Aunt Toby’s freezer and talk about the future.

No, that photo at the top is NOT Aunt Toby’s freezer, though there are moments when I gaze into mine and have the same feeling like I’m going to be climbing into it, not knowing what the hell I’m going to find. Do you have that feeling too?

Even when you stock up, and even if you know one week later that you bought chicken on sale, cut it up, packaged it and put it into the freezer, would you know how much you really have and when you put it in there. How about a month later? How about 3 months later?

Are your eyeballs glazing over (and not from the cold air, either – you can shut the door to the freezer now..)?

Aunt Toby is as guilty of ‘lack of inventory management’ as the next person, perhaps more so since I have this really deep seated belief in socking stuff away for the winter. So, I have more stuff there that I can’t identify, which makes me very grouchy indeed. And I’m going to cure that one RIGHT NOW.

One of the things that defeats people with freezer management is that a lot of us have advanced cases of ‘I know I’ve got xxx in there someplace, but I don’t know where’. So, when we want to find that, we are faced with basically emptying out the freezer until we come to a package that sort of looks like what we think ground meat or ham hocks or whatever it is should look like. At the same time, we all tend to pick from the section closest to us and if we come up a winner, well, if there is the same thing at the back of the freezer (or the bottom, depending on whether you have an upright or a chest), we are not going to find it. And eventually, guilt or a major family dinner or extra people arriving or whatever causes us to eviscerate the freezer to find the rest and…dang, freezer burned meat (or veggies or fruit or whatever)…again. And you throw that away because freezer burned meat just is very unappetizing (Aunt Toby actually advocates trimming off the freezer burned stuff and cooking it anyway, especially if you can do chicken cacciatore or stew or something like that; sauce hides all sins).

So, here is what Aunt Toby is going to do: Using my fairly dormant (but pretty well developed at one point) skills at taking inventory, I’m going need a couple of things for this:

1) Containers – I figure whatever foam or other coolers, wash baskets, heavy cardboard boxes, etc that I can find and I’m going to label them: beef, chicken, fish/shellfish, veggies, fruit, prepared meals(because I’ve got a whole whackload of chili in that freezer..I know that because I see it every time I open the door. Do I take any out? Nyet.)
2) Indelible markers
3) Heavy Duty Freezer bags
4) Grocery Plastic bags (or plastic tubs or whatever storage I can find easily)
5) Garbage can
6) Pail of hot water with a little bit of soap in it, a sponge and paper towels
7) A helper (if you don’t have a live in helper, find a friend and offer to do this for them too)
8) Inventory Sheets that look something like this:
Location/Shelf……..Item……Weight……Date Purchased……………..Took out

Right now, I have no clue as to when anything got purchased, but when I get new things, I can put that in. Also, for things that I took out of a bigger package, and broke down into smaller packages, how do I know how much is there? Well, I always repackage into meal-sized chunks, so I know that I’d be looking at a pound of meat anyway. If you can estimate by feel, then you should heft the packages and mark them accordingly. If not, find or borrow a scale.

So, here we go – I’ve got my boxes arranged around me and I reach in and the helper and I start pulling things out , undoing the wrapper if we have to take a peek and putting them into the boxes: chicken goes here; beef goes there, the chili and chicken soup and enchiladas go into the box marked ‘prepared meals’. Anything that is a disaster goes into the garbage. Anything like a bag of veggies that looks like it could use a new bag gets it.

Once the freezer is empty (and I’m not going to defrost this thing, ok; I accept that I am going to waste some energy here with this), the helper wipes out the freezer and dries it out with paper towels. While he or she is doing that, I am labeling all the packages with what it is and that day’s date and I’m putting everything that is the same item into one of the many grocery store plastic bags I’ve got. Now, my freezer is an upright, but I have some baskets in it. Chest freezers usually come with baskets. If you have baskets, put some sort of label on them because people do pull baskets out to rummage around in them and move things around before they put them back. Once you’ve put on your inventory sheet that the chicken is in basket 1, then as long as you always know which basket is number 1, then you are good to go.

So, now I have all of my stuff labeled, categorized and all lumped together. Someone now packs the stuff back into the freezer and shouts out the number of packages in the basket, plastic bag, tub or whatever you are using, and the location you are putting it in. Such as: “Chicken, 10 meals, shelf one” or “ground beef, 5 servings, basket 1”. And the helper marks that down on the list and you go through everything until you have everything packed back into the freezer.

THEN, what I’m going to do with this information is this:
1) I’m actually going to look at it. What have I got? What don’t I have? Between now and when harvest season starts, what do I have to clean up and make into meals? If I have a bunch of something there that I just don’t eat very often, I have to write myself a reminder – Don’t get that again – that is a waste.
2) I’m going to set this up with another set of columns on the right and keep a running inventory so that as I take something out, I’ll know when I get to the last two pieces or whatever and can put things on the shopping list.
3) I’m going to get a lot more creative with my cooking because dayam…I’ve got some very interesting stuff in my freezer that I need to move out of there.

Freezers are a great tool for food storage, but they really needs to be managed – and the best way I know of to manage them is to treat them the same way that the frozen food department managements in grocery stores do – rotate the stock, pull the old stuff to the front, move it out.
Photo at the top is courtesy of Aleksi Aaltonen
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  1. karent says:

    How timely. I just purchased a cookbook software program that also has inventory management for pantry and freezer, and today I cleaned out frig/freezer and listed everything I have and need to put a meal together quickly. You read my mind! Thanks for the tips. K

  2. Toby Wollin says:

    OOOOO, what a great idea!! What is the name of the software – what I could use would be something that not only would do that but that I can also put the stocking up stuff inventory in also. Does it do that? Because it would be great to have something that was so up to date when I want to do a big thing that it could tell me something like: Chicken Cacciatore for 10, the list of the ingredients, whether or not I’ve got enough in the freezer, what I don’t have and a shopping list. Wouldn’t THAT be grand!!!

  3. cidell says:

    Sigh. I started cleaning out my freezer because of you. It’s now pretty and clean. But, I’m scared to touch my pantry shelves. I found cans that expired over two years ago!

  4. htwollin says:

    Cidell — if the cans are not rusty or have any dents in them or show any damage, I think you are still good to go. Seriously. If there are no bulges in the tops or bottoms, no rust, no dents or damage, I think the cans are still good.

  5. karent says:

    Well, I thought I left another reply but don’t see it. The software is Living Cookbook 2008 and has a 30 day free trial. I only just downloaded Sunday, so haven’t had time to really go through the features but it’s supposed to be able to do inventory management. I have a three day weekend coming, and I should have time to fool with it. I’ll report back. K

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