Frugal freezer tips for proper meat storage

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Dear New Frugal You,
What's the best way to freeze meat? Trying to reduce my grocery bill, I've been buying more when I see a sale. I freeze the extra in the store packages. Half the time when I defrost the meat it just doesn't seem to taste right. How do you freeze meat without losing its taste, texture or quality? -- Jere

Dear Jere,
With food prices rising, you're right to use your freezer to help cut the grocery budget. According to the Daily Livestock Report , each American will eat approximately 80 pounds of chicken, 60 pounds of beef and 50 pounds of pork in a year. That's a lot of meat.

And, meat is one of the most expensive items in your cart. U.S. Census Bureau statistics say that we spend 22 percent of our grocery budget on meats, poultry, fish and eggs.

So buying meat on sale and freezing it is a great idea. But -- as anyone who's pulled out a freezer-burned roast knows -- failure to protect your frozen meats can get expensive.

We'll skip the details of why freezer burn occurs. Rather, we'll focus on fighting it by proper packaging. The goal is to create an airtight barrier around the meat. You want to prevent air getting into or out of the package.

Most grocery store packaging isn't meant for long-term freezer storage. You want to create at least a double barrier between your meat and outside air. Some people even use old bread bags to create a third or fourth barrier!

Decide how long something will be stored before you wrap it. If something will be frozen for just a few weeks, a simple freezer zipper bag will work. But if you're planning on keeping an item frozen for months, you'll need to be more careful in packaging it.

Most people use some combination of plastic wrap, freezer paper, aluminum foil, sealable freezer bags and vacuum-sealed bags. Since foil and freezer paper don't seal as well as some of the new products they're gradually being used less.

No matter what you use, try to keep the amount of air inside the wrapping to a minimum. Clingwrap does this automatically. With sealable bags you'll need to squeeze or suck out the air.

You'll be tempted to save on supplies, but you cannot reuse freezer paper. Some people reuse freezer bags, but they're very careful about washing them and only reusing them with the same type of meat each time to prevent foodborne illness. Unless you're going to be very careful, it's safer to just use them once.

A better way to save on supplies is to buy on sale and buy generic. A restaurant supply store is a good source for your supplies. They may also have meats at prices that beat your local grocery store or butcher.

Remember to repackage into sizes that are useful for your family. That will minimize wasted leftovers later.

Make sure you label every package. Include everything you need to know about the contents, such as the cut of meat, its weight and the date frozen. And keep an inventory of what's in your freezer on the door.

Also, keep to a minimum the time you spend with the freezer door open.

Finally, keep a thermometer in the freezer and check it every few days. Any change in temperature could be an early warning of a freezer failure. That would surely be unfrugal!

See related: Freezing meat safely , Want grocery store bargain? It's easy: Look high and low

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