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Ina Garten shares 5 tips for safely and efficiently using your freezer

The Barefoot Contessa took to Instagram to share tips on how best to put your freezer to work right now.
Today - Season 66
The chef shared some tips to help home cooks take advantage of their freezer during the coronavirus pandemic.Nathan Congleton/NBC

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/ Source: TODAY
By Kerry Breen

Ina Garten isn't just posting her ideas for delicious things to make from your pantry and fridge — she's also offering up some tips to help keep your freezer stocked as you practice social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The chef and television star took to Instagram to share five important tips about how to store food in the freezer.

"I used to keep only chicken stock, vanilla ice cream and vodka in my freezer, but now I'm really learning how to use it!" she wrote, alongside a photo of a fully-stocked freezer.

1. Allow food to cool before storing.

Garten started off her list with some tips about how to best store food in containers. She recommends allowing food to cool to room temperature before packing it in containers.

2. Leave space in the container.

Once the food is cool enough to be stored, make sure to put it in a container that has some extra space, explaining that foods with liquid will expand when they freeze.

In 2017, food safety experts told TODAY that it's important to make sure frozen foods are wrapped well and stored in a tightly sealed container.

3. Label each container.

Once your food is stored, make sure to label containers so you know what's what — and when you cooked it! Garten recommends labeling each container with the food inside and the date it was frozen.

Different foods can stay in the freezer for different periods of time. In 2017, chef Jennifer Stack, RDN, who teaches nutrition and food safety at the Culinary Institute of America, told TODAY that foods like whole roasts, steaks and whole chickens can be frozen for up to a year and retain their quality. Once meats are cut into pieces, the window gets smaller, but Stack said that technically food can kept in the freezer "indefinitely."

"Frozen foods can be kept in your freezer indefinitely and still be safe to eat ... assuming they have stayed frozen solid the whole time," she said. "Your frozen foods will keep their quality longer if they are kept in the coldest part of the freezer, such as the bottom or the back of the freezer."

4. Wait to stack containers.

Garten added that when you're stowing containers in the freezer, it's important to not stack containers until their contents are frozen so that the food can "freeze quickly."

5. Defrost food safely and slowly.

When it comes time to defrost something, try to take it out the night before and leave it in the fridge so it can thaw overnight. Garten said that this option is "safer," and in 2017, Lauren Sucher, a press officer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said that there are three ways to safely defrost food: leave it in the fridge overnight, defrost it in cold water or defrost it in the microwave. For the latter two options, food should be cooked immediately after defrosting.

"Never thaw food at room temperature, such as on the counter top," advised Sucher. "Food must be kept at a safe temperature during thawing." That means it's a bad idea to leave out raw poultry, raw beef or any other food you wouldn't normally leave sitting out on the counter.