Because we’ve never relied on our freezers more than right now.

By Stacey Ballis
Updated August 18, 2020
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We have never relied on our freezers more than in 2020, am I right? With the pandemic driving the need to stay home and cook more, sales of chest freezers and extra fridges have gone through the roof in the past few months. Which also means that it is the worst possible time to have your freezer fail you. And while we cannot control things like power outages or a piece of equipment giving up the ghost, there are some things we can do to protect the investment the contents of our freezers represent.

Keep yourself (and your frozen foods) safe and sound with these top tips for managing your freezer.

1. Keep it organized

A freezer will work best if it is fairly full, but still has some airflow. Keeping your freezer organized will therefore be step number one in making sure the coldest air gets where it needs to go. And using organizing tubs like these can help wrangle loose items while contributing to overall organization.

2. Keep it sealed

It is especially important that none of a freezer's contents press against the door or lid, which could block the seal. (Anyone who has ever pulled at a freezer door handle to find no resistance knows the sinking feeling of a door that was not sealed.) Even the corner of a plastic bag sticking out in the wrong place can make for a disaster. If you have people in your house who might not be as diligent about ensuring a safe closure of the freezer, think about adding a latch like this which holds the door shut. Or if you have a chest freezer, look for one like this.

3. Set up a DIY warning system

Do you have a second freezer in a location that you don’t use every day, or one in a second home? Do you have issues with power outages? When a refrigerator has gone off, you’ve got an icky smell that gives it away, but freezers are trickier. There are all kinds of horror stories about people going out of town or going to vacation homes where there has been a power outage long enough for the freezer contents to spoil and then refreeze unbeknownst to the owners. No one wants to get sick just because they didn’t know their foods was unsafe for a time.

Use this simple trick to keep safe: Fill a small (about 16-ounce size) clear deli container or other disposable food container (with a lid) with water and freeze it solid. Then place a quarter, a heavy washer, or anything small that does not float, on top of the ice. When you open your freezer, check to make sure the item is still on top of the ice. If it is embedded in the ice, especially if it is embedded at the bottom of the ice, your freezer has failed and then re-frozen, and your food is no longer safe.

Credit: Qwart/Getty Images

Qwart/Getty Images

4. Keep a thermometer in the freezer where you can see it

A small freezer thermometer at eye level will instantly tell you every time you open the door if your freezer temp is in proper range (it should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit) Be sure not to put this on the door itself, but on a shelf where you can see it.

5. Be prepared to triage

If you fear a freezer failure, either because your freezer is older or you have a power outage issue, it can be useful to be prepared in case of emergency. Having some large coolers around in case you catch your freezer dying can help temporarily salvage the contents. As long as the temp of your freezer has not gone above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 2 hours, the contents of your freezer are still safe to eat. Put expensive or irreplaceable items in the coolers first and pick up bags of ice as soon as you can to keep them cold. And think priorities: Meats, the top layer of your wedding cake, the special spice blend you brought all the way back from your last trip abroad, save! The half a loaf of sliced bread from the grocery store? Let it thaw and make bread pudding.

6. Install an alert system

Whether you want to monitor your fridge and freezer in your kitchen, the bonus ones in the garage or basement, or even those of your parents who might need assistance, investing in a system that you can access remotely and will give you a warning can be a godsend. There are many types on the market and some work better for certain applications. I like these following two options:

AcuRite 00515M Refrigerator Thermometer: This budget-friendly, two-sensor system for the fridge and freezer has an external thermometer and an alert system that will sound if either appliance goes above or below your set temperature range. This is a good option off you have a small home or apartment, since you will need to be able to hear the alarm go off to address any issue that might come up. Terrific for the fridge/freezer in your kitchen, in other words, but not so great if you want to monitor a second unit in a less trafficked area.

Buy It: AcuRite 00515M Refrigerator Thermometer with 2 Wireless Temperature Sensors & Customizable Alarms for Fridge & Freezer ($34.99), walmart.com

La Crosse Alert System: La Crosse has all sorts of terrific tech in the temperature-monitoring arena, and you can customize for your home to optimize what you are monitoring. They have two options for fridge/freezer sensors: the Alert system or the View system. The Alert system comes with its own small Wi-Fi gateway and connects to an app on your phone. You set the temp range and frequency of checks, and it will send you texts or emails or both when your fridge or freezer go outside the range you have indicated. They also have water sensors that work with this system, which are great for basements that can flood, or laundry rooms or mechanical rooms where equipment might fail and flood.

Buy It: La Crosse Alerts Mobile 926-25101-GP Wireless Monitor System Set with Dry Probe ($36.01), amazon.com.