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The pantry principle is the idea of stockpiling your pantry with food purchased at the lowest possible price. This concept is a wonderful way to have everything you need on hand at mealtime while saving money and eliminating the need to run to the store for a forgotten item. I share how we use this concept in The Pantry Principle: Making it Work For You. Combining freezer storage as part of your pantry principle is another great method for saving your food dollars and building a stockpile.
Many people in the preparedness world shy away from freezer storage. The reason I hear most often for this is, “What about an EMP? My freezer would be useless, and I’ll lose all the food I spent big bucks on.” Well…perhaps. But planning your food storage based on only one scenario results in missed opportunities. While an EMP could happen, planning for everyday events makes the deep freezer a perfect food storage vehicle.
Freezer storage is the perfect way to stockpile meat, vegetables, fully-cooked meals, dehydrated meats, and even drinking water. Having a full freezer can help you ride out a natural or man-made disaster, job loss, illness, inflation, and more. The last few years, with the pandemic and various food and supply shortages, have proven we know not what the future holds. What can we do today to help ensure our family’s comfort and to provide full stomachs? A well-stocked freezer is one way.
Most refrigerators, of course, have a small to medium-sized freezer above, below, or to the side of the fridge. Utilizing the fridge freezer was enough for me for many years. Then I discovered stockpiling and knew I needed more. We’ve still made use of the fridge freezer by keeping it well organized and stocked with items we wanted easy access to. One year we even stocked eighteen homegrown chickens on one shelf in the side-by-side freezer!
When we first purchased a separate freezer, we bought a used chest freezer. Years later, when it was time to shop for a new one, we discussed switching from the chest version to an upright one.
An upright freezer is much the same as a refrigerator, with it standing upright and having easy-to-access shelves. From an easy-access and organizational standpoint, this sounds like a winner. Plus, they are easier to clean and have a smaller footprint, taking up less space. Unfortunately, upright freezers are more expensive, tend to have a shorter lifespan, and are not as energy efficient as chest freezers.
When we needed our new freezer, we were living off the grid with only a small solar system providing limited power. When crunching the numbers, the upright freezer used more energy than our system could reliably produce. A new, highly rated chest freezer fit our needs perfectly. Chest freezers are not only more energy efficient but they often have a larger storage capacity plus stay colder longer if the power should go out.
A few years after our freezer purchase, after hooking up to the local power grid, we added a second chest freezer after, once again, debating the merits of each. I don’t know what to say, we’re chest freezer folks!
Recently, one of my daughters and her husband needed a new freezer. They’d had a chest that went out (ruining everything in it) and decided to go with an upright. She loves it and is very happy with their decision.
Weighing the pros and cons of each option is important. You may decide that the easy organization of an upright trumps the energy efficiency of a chest. Remember, in both cases, keeping a freezer full will help with efficiency.
Even the fullest freezer is of no use if you can’t find what you’re looking for when you want it. Over the years, I’ve tried all sorts of organizing methods and ideas to try and eliminate the black hole our chest freezer can become.
What tends to work best in my house is dividing up the items between various freezers. Last year, the elk and mule deer went in the garage freezer, along with a handful of homegrown chickens. The pantry freezer held the antelope, whitetail deer, fish (both wild-caught and purchased), and produce. The fridge freezer holds store-purchased produce, leftover cooked foods, and various miscellaneous items.
Because we harvest the bulk of our meat through hunting or raising it on our small homestead, our freezers are restocked seasonally. Each year, sometime between mid-August and mid-September, we fully empty one freezer at a time. As we empty it, we sort the items.
I have a bad habit of stashing bits and pieces of leftovers in the freezer. They sink into the black hole and are not seen until our yearly purge. I always say, “I wondered what happened to that,” and my husband gives me a patient look. I’ve tried using a dedicated basket for my “treasures,” and this does help. The last few years have definitely been an improvement over my early years of stashing!
We organize and categorize our freezers in ways that make sense to us. I know if I want a chicken, I’ll look in the garage freezer. If I’m looking for frozen broth, it’s in the basket of the pantry freezer. Frozen refried beans are in the fridge freezer along with fruit for making smoothies. Storage bins, baskets, and even boxes are helpful for containing smaller items. Plastic bags and even reusable grocery bags don’t work well in the freezer. The plastic becomes brittle and falls apart and the reusable bags are just awkward.
If you have an upright freezer, bins, baskets, and boxes can still be helpful with keeping things arranged. You can put labels on the fronts of the containers and know what’s inside at a glance. Designating each shelf for specific items can also be useful.
Using bins or boxes and a layering system can be very helpful with a chest freezer. Depending on the size of your freezer and containers, you can put one or two boxes/bins side by side on the bottom. Add a second layer of the same number of bins on top of that. Baskets that fit inside the freezer and slide side to side form the top layer. When you need something from the bottom, it’s easy to access by removing the basket and middle bin.
Of course, it’s also helpful to put items you think you’ll use last in the bottom bins. That doesn’t seem to be how it works out at my place. Usually, the largest items—roasts, hams, whole chickens—are in the bottom bi,n and those are the ones I need most often!
FIFO for your Freezer Storage
I’ve found first in first out to be more of a challenge in my chest freezer than in my pantry or cupboards. I’m sure there are several reasons for this, including the awkwardness of a chest freezer. I think the main reason, though, is we stock our freezers seasonally as mentioned in the previous section.
Since we’ve started cleaning and organizing each year, prior to hunting season when our freezer is restocked, we use this as our FIFO. We process our own game and label it with the date when wrapping. Fruits and vegetables are also part of our freezer storage, with many of them also being seasonal. At harvest time, late summer into fall, they’re added and dated.
For other produce and miscellaneous things purchased from a grocery store or other sources, I’ve found it’s easiest to store them in the freezer under the fridge or in a basket in our pantry freezer. I often use a sharpie and mark the purchase date on the packages so I can attempt to use the oldest items first.
To practice FIFO in your freezer, labeling is going to be your best option. Whether you are processing foods yourself, making freezer meals, or buying items from the grocery store, label, label, label. Invest in a package of Sharpies. They are so helpful for all avenues of food storage and preparedness organization.
A master inventory list can be very beneficial for freezer storage. My oldest daughter uses a large dry-erase board to help keep track of her goods. This works well for her and her husband, as long as they’re diligent with adding and erasing.
In addition to a dry-erase board, other inventory items worth considering are digital spreadsheets or a simple pen and paper method. For most of the year, I don’t use a list. The only time I’ve found it helpful is when we do our yearly freezer cleaning and organization, then I’ll make a list of things I want to use up soonish. This list is where I look first when meal planning.
Build in Stages or Bulk Purchase?
Meat is a wonderful thing to add to your freezer storage. It’s also one of the most expensive items we spend our food dollars on. You could build your meat storage in stages by looking for loss leader, sale, and marked-down options. I did this for many years, and it worked well. Another option, which can result in higher quality protein at a comparable price per pound, is to buy in bulk. Ordering a quarter, half, or whole beef, pig, lamb, etc. can quickly fill your freezer. When ordering a half or whole animal, you can sometimes go in with another family to get the best pricing.
Fruits and vegetables for freezer storage can also be built in stages or by bulk purchasing, along with growing your own or gleaning from local farmers, other gardeners, or even from the wild. For many years I’ve purchased boxes of apples, peaches, and other fruits from Azure Standard to freeze and otherwise process at home. I often look for their “seconds” or other discounted options.
Another thing I like to do is keep ready-made meals or components of meals available. Precooked beans and rice can result in dinner on the table in minutes. Making a double batch of casserole and freezing one for later also works well. Premade pizza crust gives us take-out style food in less time than it takes to drive to town.
What About an EMP?
An EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, is a common concern in the preparedness world. It was relatively unheard of until the book One Second After opened everyone’s eyes to the possibility, but now it’s a common theme among disaster movies and fiction novels. Yours truly (that’s me!) even has an EMP as the coup de grâce after a series of smaller disasters brings the United States to shambles (shameless plug for my Havoc in Wyoming & Montana Mayhem series).
With EMPs being so popular in fiction, it’s no wonder we may shy away from freezer storage in real life. None of us want our food to rot when our freezer suddenly stops working. I truly believe a freezer is excellent food storage as long as you have a plan for if the freezer is not usable.
I have several friends who have relied on their food storage for a variety of reasons. One friend’s husband was out of work for a year. During that time, their food storage kept them fed—not just shelf-stable items but their filled freezer too. Another friend used her food storage for several months after a death in the family. She found it comforting to know she had food on hand and didn’t need to wander the grocery store aisles during her time of grief. Personally, during the early days of the pandemic, our well-stocked freezer (along with the pantry) kept us out of the grocery stores.
Living rurally, we often lose power for several hours at a time. Keeping the freezers closed during an outage is usually all that is needed. Should we have a several-day outage, one of our freezers is located by an outlet that connects to our solar system. The other chest is in the garage on grid power, which can be kept frozen either with the generator or an extension cord connecting it to the solar system. Because we have a small solar system, we can only run one freezer at a time, but a few hours each day is all that is needed to keep things frozen when adding insulation to the outside, such as sleeping bags and quilts.
If we experienced a major event, with a long-term power outage that surpassed our stored generator fuel and/or an event that took out our solar system, we’d be turning to canning, nonelectric dehydrating, fermenting, salt curing, and possibly alcohol and olive oil immersion. Learning alternative food preservation methods and keeping basic supplies on hand for these methods are part of our preparedness efforts.
A Final Note on Freezer Storage
Remember, a full freezer stays cold and uses less energy than an empty freezer. As you eat the freezer foods, consider putting buckets or jugs of water in the available space. This water then becomes drinking water in case of an emergency. While a fuller freezer is helpful, you also don’t want it too full. There should be room for the air to circulate.