In conjunction with Butch’s articles on setting up a solar/battery/freezer, I thought I’d write about a related topic: what to store in your freezer.
The first thing to know about frozen food is that almost any food will keep indefinitely, if it is kept at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t take my word for it. Read this USDA fact sheet: “Food stored constantly at 0 °F will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage. ”
Given that you can store almost any food in the freezer, what considerations determine which foods are best to store — especially, from our point of view, for prepping purposes? I consider that stored food in general must include sufficient amounts of each macronutrient: protein, fat, carbs. See my article Food Storage for Survival: Carbs, Protein, Fat and the follow-up Food Storage Preparedness: dietary fat.
Many different good sources of carbohydrates store well without refrigeration or freezing: rice, pasta, wheat flour, instant potato, oats, barley, other grains, sugar, etc. So you don’t need to freeze your stored carbs. Freezer storage space is limited; only freeze what you need to freeze.
The main source of stored dietary fat in your stored food will be vegetable oil. Most oils keep well without freezing or refrigeration. In the past, I’ve kept flax oil frozen until needed, because it goes rancid within a few months, even when refrigerated. You could conceivably store any oil in the freezer, so that it would keep indefinitely. But since many oils keep, without refrigeration, for up to a couple of years, I suggest a better use of that storage space.
Here is where having a freezer, with a battery and solar panel power source, gives you a real advantage in stored food. Most people eat a diet that includes many foods which cannot be stored at room temperature, and which keep for a only week or so at refrigeration temperature, especially: meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, eggs. If the power goes out, and you are only able to eat stored food and/or what you grow in a garden, your diet will have changed suddenly. No more steak, chicken, or fish. No more milk, cheese, or eggs.
Those last two, eggs and cheese, can be kept for a few weeks in the frig. Some cheeses will keep at room temperature, such as unopened grated cheese. It is possible to store eggs without refrigeration. But you are still much better off if you can refrigerate or freeze these foods. When freezing eggs, the best approach is to buy frozen egg whites in a carton. It is not practical to freeze whole raw eggs.
When thawing eggs or any frozen foods that grow bacteria easily, it is best to do so at refrigerator temperatures (if possible). If refrigeration is unavailable, you might try immersing the frozen food in cool water. The thawing is quicker, and takes place at a lower temperature than the room, so there is less bacterial growth.
As sources of macronutrients, all of these foods are high in protein and most are also good sources of fat. Now I know that vegetable oil is healthier than the fat from red meat, poultry, or dairy. But saturated fat is a useful nutrient, especially if food has become scarce. It supplies calories, and saturated fat is needed by the body. If your diet contains no saturated fat, your body will make it.
When there are food shortages or food rationing, it is usually the refrigerated foods that are in shortest supply. Non-perishable foods can be warehoused, and shipped much more easily than perishables. So a freezer full of meat, poultry, fish, dairy is an awesome resource.
Limited Storage Space
Your freezer has precious few cubic inches of volume, so make the best use of it. I suggest storing boneless chicken; otherwise, you are using your resources to store food (bones) that you will not eat. Also, I think it is better to store steak, rather than hamburger. First, hamburger has much surface area, and therefore much more bacteria than steak. This makes thawing hamburger more of a danger than thawing steak. Also, when you are eating from stored food, you will appreciate having a good steak now and then; it relieves the monotony of eating a more restricted stored-food diet.
Bacon is not good for you. But it is delicious, and stores extremely well. The fat from bacon can be saved and used to flavor other meals. Bacon cooks quickly, and comes already vacuum-packed, in compact easy-to-freeze packaging. When choosing a diet, you need to consider your mental health as well as your physical health. Enjoyable foods are good for the soul.
Sliced ham, and other sliced deli meats are pre-cooked and ready to use. They will keep forever when kept frozen. The availability of pre-cooked food is important if there is an extended power outage. I think it is best to freeze mainly pre-cooked food, so that if the power is out, you can eat well without having to go outside and start a cooking fire. Pre-cooking the food also kills most of the bacteria, so when you thaw the food, there is less chance of high bacteria growth.
I cooked some steak and boneless chicken. Then I used a FoodSaver vacuum wrapping machine to seal the cooked food and freeze it. (Remember to date the packages.) This makes for very compact storage of excellent sources of protein and fat. I’ve also used the FoodSaver to vacuum pack some non-perishables, including nuts/seeds. I have the FoodSaver 3200; it’s an excellent machine.
Milk presents some difficult food storage problems. It is mostly water, so it does not store compactly. I might consider freezing a small amount of milk, to use for coffee, but there is not enough freezer space to store much milk. Powdered milk is nutritious, but unpalatable. I’ve tried the ultra-pasteurized milk that keeps at room temp for at least a few months. But that length of storage time is too short, and the product is more expensive than regular milk. I just have not found a good solution to this problem yet.
Cheese is one of my favorite foods. The only problem with freezing cheese is that sometimes the texture can change. Not much of a problem. American processed cheese food, those individually wrapped cheese-like slices, freezes and thaws well. The individual wrapping helps keep the quality, and it is inexpensive. Stored foods such as rice, pasta, and instant potatoes become more palatable and more nutritious if you add a modest quantity of cheese. So I would give some priory to cheese when apportioning my freezer space.
Another good freezer item is those foil packets of salmon or tuna that are readily available in most supermarkets. You can’t freeze cans of tuna, or cans of anything. But the foil packets freeze and thaw well. Even though the packets keep at room temp, they will keep forever as long as they are frozen.
Foods not to Freeze
If you are freezing food with an eye toward survival situations, I suggest that you not freeze frozen dinners, onion rings, French fries, pizza, etc. It is a waste of freezer space because you are freezing rice, pasta, flour, vegetables — all ingredients that will keep well in your pantry in boxes and cans. Also, I’d shy away from foods like ice cream, that tend to lose their quality if frozen for a long time. I suppose you could freeze some fruits or fruit juice. But I would use the freezer space mainly for meat, poultry, fish, and dairy.