Labeling and dating your frozen food portions is very important, because you need to know how long you have to use your food before it’s overstayed its welcome. Most foods can be stored for a minimum of 3 months in the freezer. There are many guidelines available online for how long you should store your food in the freezer, refrigerator, and pantry. “So how do I label and date my foods?” you may ask. There are some basic things you need to know.
You can’t just use any kind of stickers or tape. Freezer tape and food-safe labels are necessary because they have a special kind of adhesive that won’t leave a residue when you remove them. The residue left behind by traditional stickers and tape will harbor bacteria around the containers you use, and that bacteria will eventually make it to your food, as bacteria are always moving everywhere as long as they’re active. Freezer tape looks just like masking tape, but it’s in a smaller roll. I always leave the torn end of my freezer tape folded over so I can easily grasp it for either tearing off a new piece, or removing the piece of tape from a used container before I put it in the dish washer.
You need to use permanent markers. Any kind, any color will do, but I recommend thinner tips because they’ll be easier to read when you’re dealing with a strip of tape or a small label. I suppose you could use a ballpoint pen, but I would worry about the ink being compromised by the conditions in the freezer; using a non-permanent marker will often cause beading of the ink on the surface of the tape or sticker.
Always label and date everything before you fill it up with food. You want to get everything packed away as quickly and smoothly as possible, and having everything pre-labeled makes things so much easier. Also, always have one or two extra baggies, labels, containers, etc., beyond what you need for a given food. So, say a recipe says it makes six servings. I would get seven containers & labels out. You never know, you might fudge the label somehow, which means you have to throw it away and use a new one. The container and/or its lid might fall to the floor. If you have one or two extra, you can plan for those eventualities, as well as dishes that make one or two more servings than the “official” number of servings listed. I often find that when I portion my rice or pasta into 1-cup servings, I am able to make more servings than the number listed in the recipe. I also know exactly how much I’m eating, which means perfect portion control.
Another reason to label and date before you portion it out is that you may be dealing with a food that is slightly hot or chilled. Putting the label on a warm or cold container might compromise its sticking ability, depending on the kind of label and material that your container is made of. This is also true with resealable plastic bags that have a section on the bag’s surface that is designated for labeling and dating the contents.
You may need or want to use a color coding system. For instance, if you have to make foods for a family member with a special dietary requirement in addition to your family’s regular meals, it’s a good idea to color-code the special foods so everyone knows that Grandma’s food is in the orange labels, or whatever. Some people find it helpful to color-code their Meal Prep portions because they feel more organized that way.
You have to know where to put the labels. If you have a chest freezer and your main freezer is a top model (meaning it’s on the top third of the refrigerator), then you need two labels–one on top so you can see what you have at a glance in your chest freezer, and one on the side so you can see what you have at a glance in your main freezer. If you have a refrigerator that has a bottom drawer type freezer, you only need to place a label on top. Also, in the top freezer, always put the containers in with the labels facing front.
Always include cooking/baking instructions. You need to know how to prepare things like casseroles, cookie dough, pies, and other things that have to be frozen unbaked. I have some index card-sized instruction labels that I have had laminated so I can tape them to my casseroles, sauces, and so on. I just take the container out and follow the directions on the card. Because it’s laminated, all I have to do is wipe it clean and reuse it as needed.
I hope this post has been helpful for you. Labeling and dating your food ensures that you know how long you can keep it frozen. Let me know what you think about these tips, and feel free to add your own!