How to Organize a Chest Freezer for Safe, Long-Term Food Storage
An organized chest freezer will reduce chaos in the kitchen, make planning and preparing meals easier, and help you reduce food waste.
A chest freezer is a terrific asset for food storage, but these appliances aren’t always easy to keep organized. An untidy deep freezer can make planning and preparing meals inefficient, since you’ll waste time and energy searching for what you need. Digging through piles of packages looking for that one item you could swear was buried somewhere in the mess defeats the convenience factor of a chest freezer, and if you wind up buying items that seem to vanish, you waste money too.
When frozen vegetables, meats, and other items get lost in your chest freezer, you may ultimately have to discard food that spoils or gets a bad case of freezer burn. That’s likely to happen, since when food is haphazardly crammed in, it can prevent the freezer from keeping food items frozen.
Fortunately, implementing some simple freezer organization ideas can get things under control. Read on to learn how to organize a chest freezer for safe and functional long-term food storage.
Working Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour
Total Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour
Skill Level: Beginner
Estimated Cost: $20 to $40
Before You Begin
If you’re not starting with an empty freezer, refrigerate and try to use as much of its contents as possible. Once food has thawed, it is typically safe to refreeze, but taste and quality may be diminished. Prior to organizing, empty, clean, and defrost your deep freezer chest. (As a general rule, a chest freezer should be defrosted about once a year, though your model may require it more often if frost builds up.) Assess everything you’ve removed and purge any items that are expired or that you know you won’t use. There is no point in having frozen foods that will never get eaten take up space in the freezer.
STEP 1: Sort all the food into different categories.
Sorting foods into categories will help you find what you need more easily. Also, similar items often come in similar packaging, so they may be stored most efficiently together. Because every household uses their freezer differently, your exact freezer categories will depend on what you regularly store in it. Common food categories include meat (you can further break it down by type of meat or specific cuts), vegetables, fruit, pizza and ready-to-cook meals, breads and waffles, and ice cream and other desserts.
STEP 2: Divide the freezer into zones by category.
After establishing your categories, create zones within the freezer for each type of food. To facilitate this, use freezer storage containers and baskets to keep each category grouped together. If you don’t have organizers on hand, you can try searching online “dividers for chest freezer,” which can help keep the containers from sliding around. Next, fill the bins you purchased with your freezer items, taking care to keep everything separated into their respective categories.
Then, stack the bins on top of one another in layers. This way, when you need to find something in the freezer, you can simply remove the bin(s) on top of it. Everything within the bins you remove will remain organized, instead of sliding all around and getting mixed in with foods from a different category.
STEP 3: Label packages and containers (optional).
To keep your freezer organized, it’s a good idea to label your food items and/or organizers. You can write on moisture-resistant freezer labels with permanent marker to write on bins, freezer bags, and any other containers you want to label (or you can write on these items directly). This will take the guesswork out of what’s in which particular section, saving you and your household from having to rifle around for a specific item. It can also help you more easily take stock of what you have and which items you’re running low on.
STEP 4: Keep a running inventory to avoid wasting or overbuying items (optional).
Before you begin returning items to the freezer, take an inventory of what you have. There are apps available to help with this, or you can make your own digital spreadsheet or use pen and paper to track what’s in your chest freezer for free. When you remove an item, take a second to cross it off or delete it from the inventory; any time you add new food to one of your bins, mark it on your inventory list as well. Creating headers for the inventory list that match the categories and bins in your freezer will make it easier to track the items you have. If desired, you could add notes for yourself about certain items, such as expiration dates and when they were opened.
STEP 5: Keep your most-used items easily accessible.
Before placing the bins or containers back into your chest freezer, think about the most logical way to order them. Aim to keep your most-used items easily accessible to save you time when you need to grab them. For example, if you toss a bag of frozen veggies in the microwave each night or regularly reach for that tub of ice cream, then the bins holding those items should be near the top of the freezer.
STEP 6: Evaluate your system and make adjustments as needed.
Making your freezer organization system work for you is crucial. Otherwise, you may not be able to follow through with the system you developed, and before you know it you’ll be back with a cluttered mess of packages. If you find that the system you chose or the categories you created aren’t working, don’t be afraid to make a few adjustments.
At first, it may seem easier to organize an upright freezer than a chest freezer, but—with the right system—anything is possible. The key is to come up with an organization plan that works for you, and stick with it. Dividing, labeling, and keeping a running inventory of what’s in the freezer can eliminate the need to dig around for something that may or may not be there, which makes the organization process more than worth the effort.