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Freeze Food at Your Own Peril

September 13, 2011

Food Storage, Preserving Food

Old freezer full of food

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am a bargain shopper by nature and a long-term meal planner.  I determine (sometimes months in advance) a calendar for dinners and then try to shop accordingly.  If the sales don’t cooperate with my plan, I rearrange the menu to suit what’s been priced to sell.

Routinely, I have checked the markdown section and picked up meat on it’s last sale date and just repackaged it for the freezer if I’m not using it the next day.  We have accumulated a good bit of meat this way, at bargain basement prices.

But this practice has a serious weakness- it is dependent on a good freezer and consistent electricity.

Always Try to Anticipate Trouble Spots

To some degree, I knew I was playing with fire (or ice?) by doing this, but the system had worked for years and I got complacent.

Enter searing summer heat and an overworked deep freeze.

One day when I went down to our outbuilding to retrieve some meat to thaw for the next days’ meals, I noticed a puddle of water in front of the freezer.  Lots of condensation pooling there, I told myself.  I mentioned it to Joe and he said he’d take a look, but you know how things are- more pressing things came first.  Out of sight (way down there), out of mind (both of ours).

A few days later, I went down again and there was no denying it- some things in the freezer were no longer solidly frozen, but it was still running- the light came on, the fan was running, and everything.

Hot at nightWe had to take a 2 day trip out of town and I was concerned about it, but I knew that a freezer that is kept closed and is solidly packed should stay cold for quite a while and I didn’t really have any other choice right that minute.

As soon as we got back, I went down and checked and holy moly! It was bad.  The door seal had apparently failed and the floor was covered in water.  Half the contents were cold but no longer frozen and the rest was quickly following.  I had to do something fast.

Make a Plan

I quickly gathered up every cooler we had and anything that could be deputized as one and shot off to get lots of ice.  I sorted everything by its urgency and type of meat and packed it into the coolers on the bed of the truck.  We then brought everything into the kitchen where I began frantically pressure canning it in a marathon 3 day session.

I scoured the internet for recipes for all the meats I needed to save.  Some things (like ground beef and bulk sausage) I browned, drained,  and then canned to be added to spaghetti sauce or gravy.  Other things (like chicken breasts and fish fillets) I just sliced to fit into the jars and canned as it was.

Three delirious days later, the entire dining room table was covered in canning jars and I was exhausted.  Some  items, unfortunately, could not be salvaged for one reason or another and I sadly hauled them to the dump.

Lesson Learned

The moral to my story is that one must keep in mind that freezing items is not the “safest” way to preserve them.  Frozen meat has a shorter “shelf life” than canned meat to start with.  Beyond that, a power outage or broken appliance could ruin the whole lot of it before you know it’s happening.

That is not to say that we no longer keep meat in a deep freeze.  We recently took a steer we had raised to the packing house and filled a new freezer with the meat he provided.  Some things you just don’t want to precook or can (T-bone steaks for example).  BUT, I do make sure I check the freezer temperature often and that I keep enough empty jars on-hand to convert those roasts and such to stewing meat or soup.

An Embarrassing Realization

By the way, I had a hard time finding good canning recipes for using sausages in casings.  I saw a number of suggestions for turning them into Pork ‘n Beans, but I hoped to be able to branch out a bit from that and I really just needed to get them preserved the fastest way possible.  I did finally find directions for pressure canning them in hot water, but with the warning that the sausage may be mushy from absorbing the liquid.

Short on sleep and desperate to finish this job, I gave it no more thought and plowed ahead.  Ninety minutes later, when the jars came out of the canner, I tested the seals and put them on the table to cool.  I then fell into bed.

The next morning, I walked to the kitchen.  In the light of day, I was absolutely appalled at the sight that awaited me.

I don’t want to be indelicate here, but let’s just say there is a good reason why people don’t can hot dogs and sausages without slicing them up and adding them to other foods.  They bloat and come to resemble, well, …  things that ought never to be showcased in glass jars!  Joe suggested we place one on the fencepost down by the road with a caution about the last guys who tried to rob us.  I just quickly hid them in the darkest recesses of a cupboard.

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10 Comments on “Freeze Food at Your Own Peril”

  1. Arsenius the hermit Says:

    I once took my family to Nashville for a week so my wife could go to a school up there for a class on teaching dyslexics to read (my son is dyslexic.) While we were gone, there was a big storm and the breakers kicked off. Everything in the freezer spoiled and the stench was appalling. I almost never leave home now for more than a day or two at a time.

    Reply

  2. Rob Says:

    Lesson learned and noted. We had our fridge go out, it was a slow death. We only lost 2 bags of chili. 2 days later we went major food shopping. Lucky it happened before and not after.

    Reply

  3. Commander_Zero Says:

    Spend $15 and get yourself a freezer alarm. I had to throw out several hundred dollars of food (including some awesome buffalo steaks the size of a phonebook) a few years back and swore I’d never do that again. I purchased a freezer alarm and then a couple of those enormous coffin-sized coolers they sell at Sportsmans Warehouse and Cabelas. One big thing to think about – a chest freezer will do better than an upright in a failure-situation. The cold air will simply sit in the chest whereas it will ‘pour’ out of the upright freezer if the door is opened or a seal is bad.

    Reply

    • Laura Says:

      Thanks for that thought. We definitely learned some things from this experience. Do they make “remote” alarms? Our new freezer has one as part of the unit, but the outbuilding where we keep it is too far away to hear the alarm if it goes off.

      Fortunately, we had some giant coolers that we had purchased to pick up the steer and pig we had taken to the packing house. I noticed a distinct difference in how cold/long the new ones kept the food vs the coolers we’d had 5 or 10 years, so the insulation technology has made serious advances.

      Need to look into a remote wireless alarm if they make them. That grass-fed beef and pork is too good to let spoil!

      Thanks for the comment.

      Reply

  4. Jarhead Survivor Says:

    I like Joe’s suggestion. 🙂

    Reply

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