The most stressful part of visiting my folks is opening my mom's freezer.

First of all, I never know what I might get hit with (as it falls out, no doubt relieved to be free).

Second of all, the type A part of me just itches to get in there and organize everything.

I plan to try these tips out next time I visit—let’s hope these tips make your kitchen adventures easier and your trips to the freezer less hazardous!

4 Reasons why you want to organize your freezer

Beyond the sheer aesthetic appeal of opening your freezer door and seeing everything in its place, there are other far more practical reasons to take the time to organize your freezer.

  • It saves you money: A well-organized freezer is more energy-efficient. It uses less energy to do a better job! Plus—with a well-organized freezer, you don't risk forgetting about that expensive cut of meat buried at the bottom until it goes bad.
  • It saves you time: A well-organized freezer is one you can open and close quickly, because you find what you need right away. The less time your freezer door stays open, the less frost will build up and the less frequently you’ll need to clean out and defrost your freezer.
  • It keeps your food fresher longer: A well-organized, high-functioning freezer will freeze your food more effectively and help it last longer and taste better when you defrost it.

Know your freezer’s ideal temperature

Believe it or not, your freezer has an "ideal temperature"—this temperature is set by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to reflect safe food storage practices.

  • For safety, be sure your freezer reads at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius).
  • You can periodically check your freezer's temperature using appliance thermometers (available very inexpensively on Amazon).

Why you need to know what’s “freezable”

The first and most important part of organizing your freezer is the part most people leave out—figuring out what’s actually supposed to be frozen in the first place! If you freeze things that fare poorly in the freezer, you’re wasting precious freezer space now and cooking time on an poor tasting dish later. Here are some general guidelines you can use.

What to freeze:

  • Low-moisture fruits and veggies (ex: berries, corn, asparagus).
  • Baked goods (muffins, breads, waffles, pancakes, dough, etc.).
  • Stews, soups, stocks, broths and chili.
  • Meat, fish and seafood.
  • Milk (pour a bit out first to allow for expansion).
  • Eggs (if broken and separated into ice cube trays first).
  • Baking ingredients (nuts, chocolate chips, dry goods, marshmallows, etc.).
  • Full meals you want to reheat later.

What not to freeze:

  • High-moisture fruits and veggies (citrus, melons, lettuces, celery).
  • Creamy anything—unless your only purpose for saving it is to cook with it later.
  • Anything fried.
  • Herbs (unless frozen in ice cube trays with water).
  • Toppings (frosting, crumb topping).
  • Sauces (in glass jars with little room or in jars with a narrow neck).
  • Well-cooked pasta or rice.

Know your freezer’s warm and cold zones

While every freezer may have its little quirks, generally speaking, the coldest part of your freezer will be near the back, and the warmest part will be near the front (and especially on the door).

Since freezers are for, well, freezing, you only want to store items that can survive a less-frozen experience nearer the front.

What to store nearer the front or on the door:

  • Nuts and snacks.
  • Dry goods and baking ingredients (except for chocolate).
  • Alcohol (some people like to freeze their vodka or gin).
  • Fruits and veggies.
  • Pasta, rice and baked goods.

What to store nearer the back of the freezer:

  • Ice cream and dairy products.
  • Eggs, meat, fish and seafood.
  • Anything that will significantly degrade in taste or quality if it thaws and refreezes itself while stored in the freezer.

Get organized to store

Now that you have your freezer set at the right temperature, and you know what to store and where in your freezer to store it, it’s time to get organized. Your goal here is to use all the available space in your freezer! This means you’re paying to keep food (and not empty space) both cold and free from freezer burn (this occurs when free cold air circulates between your frozen packages).

What you need: Permanent marker (for labeling and dating packages), storage bags, organizers, a pen and paper (for "mapping" your freezer so you can track your inventory).

Storage options: The options you select will be based on your freezer shape and size and what you want to freeze. Here are some ideas.

  • Ziploc freezer bags (use the ones specifically labeled "freezer"—the plastic is thicker).
  • Stackable plastic or glass containers.
  • Foil (double wrapped).
  • Bins (the kind you use to store magazines in bookshelves work great!).

Map your freezer and re-pack

Finally, it’s time to map your freezer. For best results, try sketching this out on paper before you actually begin packing your freezer.

Once you have it sketched out to your satisfaction, all that is left is to re-pack and admire!

Zone ideas:

  • Nuts/snacks/dry goods/alcohol zone (on the door).
  • Fruits/veggies zone (near front).
  • Baked goods (near front).
  • Pre-packaged or prepared-in-advance meals (in the middle).
  • Meat/dairy zone (at the very back).