Frozen Wasteland of Doom — Confessions From a Delayed Food Waster

by Katy on April 10, 2013 · 54 comments

As the Non-Consumer Advocate I write a lot about food waste. (Heck I’m even in Jonathan Bloom’s American Wasteland book!) But sadly, I’m also a shameful and closeted food waster. Well maybe not technically a food waster, more of a delayed food waster.

What is a “delayed food waster?”

Someone who refuses to admit that her bread heels, brown bananas and turkey giblets from nineteen-ought-ninety eight are unfit for consumption, so she bags them up and puts them in the freezer.


Which means that there’s so much food stuff of unknown origin in her freezer that she’s unable to find what she’s looking for which leads to . . . wait for it . . .

More food waste!

However, I am nothing if not willing to admit my imperfections. And since I’m a big ol’ fan of the clean slate, last night I grabbed a library audio book and got to work. It was was unpleasant task, both olfactor-ily and mentally. (Those clearance priced fish fillets from three years ago had not improved in their frozen environment.)

Luckily, Portland’s curbside composting program accepts fish, bones, and all things edible, which somewhat salved the pain. I put a lot of freezer burned bread ends and iced up edamame into that compost bin. I thought about recording everything I dumped, but instead chose efficiency over transparency.

Here are two photos of what I pulled out of the freezer and composted. (Why two photos? Because there was too much to put onto a single kitchen counter!)

Exhibit #1

Food waste

Exhibit #2

Food waste 2

But here’s the freezer now. A fresh slate, ready for a life of useful and organized frozen food storage:


And here’s my kitchen island again. Free from its burden of frozen food waste:

Kitchen counter

My plan from here on out is to be very deliberate about what is allowed into the freezer. I’m actually really good at staying organized once I set up a system, so I have confidence with this goal.

And most importantly, I realize that I need to work breadcrumbs into more family meals.

Sigh . . .

Is your freezer a frozen wasteland of doom? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares April 10, 2013 at 10:16 am

There are definitely things in my freezer that are quite old. I bought some nice-looking cheese from a salvage store probably 4 years ago, but it tasted kind of sour and not very good, so it went into the freezer.

Lately I’ve been participating in a freezer clean-out challenge (, which I found surprisingly motivational. I’ve made a point to use even the things that are quite freezer-burned (my version of penance). Most things have cooked up surprisingly well. The freezer is much emptier, and we haven’t purchased much in the way of food in ages. I’ve found that we can throw things into our bread dough (frozen pumpkin, zucchini, and a little bit of cheese at a time).


Surviving and Thriving on Pennies April 10, 2013 at 10:21 am

I have to say I’m pretty good about my freezer. Spring/Summer I fill my freezer with my garden goodies and/or my fresh picked fruits. This way we can enjoy them all Winter long. Then during the Winter I stock up on meats that are on sale while using up our fruits from before. So as stuff is going in its also going out. Right now Im pretty low and ready to add in my garden stuff. I’m getting creative with all frozen meats and trying new things with them.
In doing this I am able to enjoy yummy organic produce all year long and it saves me a bundle of money from having to buy produce. I just wrote about Seasonal Produce recently. Buy it in season and eat in season. Remember looking forward to these things all year and enjoying them completely till you were sick of them? Yeah you could go buy anything anytime from the store but you will spend way more money and then whats to look forward to each season? No fun for me.


Susan April 10, 2013 at 10:22 am

I would like to think I’m selective about what I freeze…BUT I know there is some frozen fish in there that should be binned…guilty as charged.


Kailey April 10, 2013 at 10:25 am

My freezer isn’t quite there yet but it’s definitely on it’s way. Last night my partner decided to make chicken chili. I wanted to point out that we had some sort of spaghetti sauce/chili concoction frozen in the freezer but he rarely takes the reigns on dinner I didn’t want to stomp on his initiative. We also have what was originally FRESH crab that is now severely freezer burnt. I know we won’t eat of this stuff anymore but I feel too bad tossing it all, so for right now it will stay in my freezer under the guise of food storage, not garbage storage.


Linda in Indiana April 10, 2013 at 10:31 am

If the Freezer Waste Patrol comes to get you…I know I will definitely be next on their list…guilty as charged…but doing better….onward and upward.
Bread heels, etc make great croutons…or can make stuffing/dressing.
I clean my freezer out annually and it is always humbling. But, I do believe each year I have done better. Fingers crossed and still trying.


samantha April 10, 2013 at 10:40 am

bread crumb recipe ideas:
search for brown betty recipes online. choose the ones that call for bread crumbs. check them out and you will figure out the deal and then you will be using the various frozen fruits that are in your freezer too in your made-up desserts on the fly!
also…i made a recipe last night from verdura (the cookbook) that was called tribale (I think) or something similar. it was pretty simple, very adaptable and got major thumbs up from the family. generously butter a glass baking dish, like one you would use for lasagna. cover with a half cup of bread crumbs. then layer a spaghetti sauce like mixture with baked or fried slabs of eggplant and cooked rice (al dente). so: buttered bread crumbs, rice, eggplant, spaghetti sauce, cheese, rice, eggplant, spaghetti sauce, cheese then lots of bread crumbs. i think i baked it at 450 for half an hour. delish! the recipe called for diced tomatoes with olive oil and garlic and basil for the sauce part, which i did. but having done it now, i would say don’t skimp on the butter (made the rice bottom of the dish so crispy and delicious) or the oil (add it to the tomatoes) for dense flavor. then you don’t need much cheese. it was great. just two thoughts for you! (if you have any questions, just email…i won’t recheck the comment section here…)


emily April 10, 2013 at 11:04 am

My fridge is empty but the freezer is packed, so I declared this week “eat out of the freezer” week. Last night we had taco-seasoned chicken and swedish meatballs on tortillas (not together…..). My husband dubbed it “modern American eclectic cuisine”.


Renee CA April 10, 2013 at 11:30 am

There but for the grace of God…


Rowen G. April 10, 2013 at 11:35 am

I do have a lot in the freezer, but I think most things are still good. At any rate, I’m finding out, as I decided not to buy any meat this month, but to use up what I have. This also includes using up some things from the Farmers’ Market last summer, and the last of my garden stuff that I froze, and the whey left over from making yogurt cheese (it went into the bread.) The freezer isn’t nearly as full as it was a couple of weeks ago.


Blanche April 10, 2013 at 11:39 am

My chest freezer is a wasteland but only because things tend to end up at the bottom of it and if I don’t see it I don’t remember it!! I need to keep better track of what’s in there!!


Alexia April 10, 2013 at 3:21 pm

I got a 3.5 cf chest freezer just to avoid that situation! Figured I would rather get a second one if I really needed the additional space since it would be harder to lose things than in a single 7 cf freezer. The occasional item still gets buried at the bottom but it happens pretty infrequently.


kris April 11, 2013 at 6:48 am

After I cleaned ours out recently, my husband went out and bought some basket-type storage bins to stack inside. The basket-style keeps air flowing thru them but they stack on top of each other so all I have to aim for is the ‘chicken’ bin or the ‘ground beef’ bin. So much easier than just digging, trying to identify what’s in there.


Ame April 10, 2013 at 11:57 am

Firstly, ZOMG how did you fit that much into a fridge-freezer?!!

Secondly, you need someone like myself in your home. Breadbutts are my favorite! No need to freeze them. I’ll eat up those delicacies before you can get to the end of the loaf.


Rachel April 10, 2013 at 1:34 pm

haha yes! me too!


Rachel W. April 10, 2013 at 12:01 pm

We have frozen food waste but that is mostly due to dietary changes amongst family members. Food intolrances or other dietary restrictions have come into play since some of the food was frozen. Now we don’t eat those foods – like pork. So a rather delicious portion of pork loin languishes in our freezer. Makes me a sad panda.


Kate April 10, 2013 at 1:48 pm

I’ve been in the same situation with both freezer and pantry foods. My husband seems to develop a new intolerance every year. I haven’t given away any prepared foods, but I’ve definitely shown up at friends’ houses and at church with random foods to give away. The day I walked through church asking likely suspects if they ate quinoa and then handing out bags of it was priceless. By last week when I walked into choir practice and handed our director a big bag of baking powder(it had corn starch in it), she didn’t even think twice about it. 🙂


Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares April 10, 2013 at 8:50 pm

I’m definitely known to do this sort of thing, too, sometimes with food, sometimes with random household stuff. I also like to be on the receiving end!


Sarah April 10, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Oh heck yes, I am guity of this one! The specialty in our home is buying something like a box of chicken patties and then, when we discover we don’t like them, we chuck them in the freezer and ignore them instead of binning the box. My husband is also terrible at resealing bags so we occasionally wind up with freezer burnt hamburger buns or iced up edamame and peas. The veg are still usually okay if put in a casserole.


Louise April 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm

OK – when I saw all that delayed food waste I assumed you had a freezer chest. I’m impressed that it all fit into a fridge freezer compartment! You have untapped skills 😉


Katy April 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Like Tetris! 😉



Rachel April 10, 2013 at 1:33 pm

does your family not use bread heels for sandwiches?!? OMG they’re my favorite part of the loaf… kind of like those “sandwich thins” they sell now, but cheaper and more old school 😉

(although another idea that I just had, instead of breadcrumbs… would they not be awesome for homemade croutons?!?)

but yeah, I’m super impressed with the cleanout… and like Louise, WAY impressed that that all fit into a normal-size freezer in the first place!! 🙂


tna April 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm

lol I’m like the fridge/freezer cop. People in this house are very lax about food waste. I wondered…could a person live nicely on the food others would throw away, in their own house, no need to dumpster dive? It turns out you can. So if I notice something is not getting eaten I freeze it in portion sizes and plan my meals around it. I grocery shop only to supplement my fridge/freezer grocery store. I did pull some frozen bagged spinach out in January to add to a soup and was greeted with a nice dried out dark green shag carpet inside. So I don’t always pull off the due diligence. But right now I’m more concerned with the awful smell of scorched broccoli I was steaming.
ew…bad cook bad!!!!


JaneUlness April 10, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Omce every year we defrost the freezer and dump. I have very little to du,p. I organize the shelves so that all of ome item type goes on a shelf. Chicken and pork. Veggies and French fries , hamburger.
Bread from the bakery outlet goes in the bottom basket. Bread crusts or leftover buns or French bread goes on the broiler pan in the oven. It only takes a few days for it to dry out. Then it gets broken onto pieces and put through the food processor. Before I had a food processor, I took it outside on the deck and grated it on a sheet pan on the largest side of the grater. . That way the birds could eat my mess! LOL. When I went to a marathon cook one weekend and eat all month class. They said you could get a months worth of food for a family ofmfour in a standard fridge freezer. Put items in zip lock bags and store them flat. We have an upright and I store the little bags of groimd meat in a metal cookie box. After the shelves get so full, I start only buying what I have used the previous week IF it is on sale for ,my target price.


Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares April 10, 2013 at 8:52 pm

In college, I was very, very broke. I had the fortune, though, to live with a very wasteful roommate. Once I had her trained to let me know when she was going to pitch food, I had it made!


AnnW April 10, 2013 at 3:38 pm

You got All That out of the freezer? You know you don’t have to eat all the bread. You could save some for the birds or the ducks, or does Portland not let you feed the animals? I think Americans overbuy everything, especially food. My husband likes to have too much stuff. He even freezes butter. Once there were 7 pounds in the freezer. I don’t eat butter, or bake. Whatever. Ann


Susan April 10, 2013 at 4:33 pm

I keep a bag of bread ends to take to the park to feed the ducks. Fun!!!
My freezer is kinda full at the moment, but I just went shopping today. Usually, the random bags of veggies are all lonely in there because I almost NEVER freeze leftovers. I’ve been using eMeals and their portions are right on. Plus, I love, love, love putting whatever leftovers I can find into my compost bin.


AFS April 10, 2013 at 9:31 pm

the refined grains we eat in our bread are JUNK food for wild animals.
It may be fun for you to feed the ducks but its not healthy for the ducks.


BRB April 10, 2013 at 4:08 pm

I’m really bad about putting left overs in the fridge that people didn’t really like in the first place, like we will want to eat them again!


Katy April 10, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Yeah, I had a lot of that in the freezer.



One Day At A Time April 10, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Wow. Nope, not me. I have three freezers. A huge 21 cf upright freezer that we use for meats that we buy from the ranch, a side by side I store store prepared foods in (soups, stews, sauces, etc) and my freezer in the house that has frozen fruits and veg and random things in it. I keep a a spreadsheet on the prepared foods so I always know what I have. BUT the very best way to keep from having this issue? Keep hens. I never have ANY food waste because everything goes out to the compost bin every day and the hens pick through and eat what they want. It’s fantastic!


Elaine in Ark April 11, 2013 at 4:57 am

I’ll bet you have yummy eggs, too!

Chickens know what they want to eat.


Yvette April 10, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Please make friends with someone who has chickens (ahem). I have very little food waste now that I can pass on most questionable items to the Ladies. They get treats and I get the most amazing eggs!


Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares April 10, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Brilliant! I can ask the people we buy our eggs from if they can use our sour, freezer burned cheese.


Greenstrivings April 10, 2013 at 7:20 pm

This is timely. Yesterday I realized the bread heels and apple slices freezer situation was getting out of hand– when the kids don’t eat all their apple slices I freeze them. So I made apple-cinnamon bread pudding.

I’ve also subbed breadcrumbs for half the flour in oatmeal cookies. It works surprisingly well.


AFS April 10, 2013 at 8:59 pm

My freezer is packed to the gills.
I know every last leftover and marked down roast that is hiding in there.
In the past I have done just like you.
About a year ago I devised a method to prevent such waste.
There is a bulletin board above my chest freezer. I have a envelope (postage paid return envelopes from junk mail) for each category of food in the freezer.
In the envelope for bread I have an index card for each kind of bread, Hamburger buns, bagels, sandwich bread etc.
Since I’m single most of the leftovers are packaged in individual sized portions and I have that noted on the card (Navy bean soup- 5 portions, Chicken casserole 3 portions)
When I add something to the freezer I make an index card for it.
When I eat something from the freezer I mark it off of the card.
As long as I remember to record what goes in and what comes out my system works great.
Occasionally I’ll find that I have eaten something without marking it off but that hasn’t happened more than twice in the past year.
When possible I freeze things in plastic bags inside cereal boxes. Once frozen I remove the box and have easy to stack and organize “cubes” of food.


AFS April 10, 2013 at 9:07 pm

You can make bread pudding (reduce the sugar) from your bread heels. Serve it to your boys for breakfast. When it comes down to it bread pudding is just about the same as french toast (just slightly differant proportions of egg, milk & bread)


Maria April 10, 2013 at 11:31 pm

I’m amazed at how you fitted all that stuff in the freezer! Yep! I have some packages like that in my freezer too. One thing I learned from reading this post…what edamame is…had never heard of that here in Australia and looked it up. Will have to check it out whether we have them here.


Kelly April 11, 2013 at 2:14 am

Very interesting!


Michaela April 11, 2013 at 5:12 am

Well I did a big freezer clean out last year, when we switched out our old energy sapping box freezer for a nice new upright freezer (energy efficient no less!). So I would like to think I have the freezer situation under control, though we do need to use a few things I picked up here and there.

However you did shame me into cleaning out my fridge – which was a horrific food waste mess. I partially blame this situation on my garbage disposal moving out (aka my 19 year old son who is now in the Marines). Ever since he left I have had massive food waste. I think I am still cooking/shopping for four when there are really like 2.5 of us here. So now it is clean, full of non-expired, non-scary food, non-molding food (ugh!) and I feel better. Thanks for the push Katy!


Christine C April 11, 2013 at 5:16 am

You must be a tetris queen to fit all that in there! I was expecting a deep freeze from all the food in the photos. We don’t do breadcrumbs with our ends (hooves as my hubby calls them). We turn it crust in so it seems like a center piece from the outside. Works for us!


Niki Jackson April 11, 2013 at 5:34 am

Yup… Just Yup!


Joyce April 11, 2013 at 6:23 am

Well i am right there with you. One of our children left our downstairs freezer open for who knows how long, and it developed huge amounts of frost. So there are science projects in there covered with frost. When I ‘”get around to it” never seems to arrive and it’s still not finished. But now that you have finished yours, it seems a good idea that I join you.


kris April 11, 2013 at 6:38 am

I can’t believe all that was in your regular freezer! You must not have had much room for anything new, lol.

I just recently cleaned out my deep freezer that was downstairs. I wanted to move it into my kitchen b/c since it was ‘out of sight’, it was ‘out of mind’. Ended up being a whole (outside) garbage can full. I was so ashamed I let all that go to waste. I’m usually pretty good about using things up. But now I have it moved upstairs and will work on keeping things rotated thru so I don’t end up in that position again.

Hey, at least we’re consious of it, right? I’m sure a lot of people throw stuff out without a second thought. I feel like I’m opening up my wallet and just dumping $$ in the trash. :/


Madeline April 11, 2013 at 6:51 am

You have inspired me to clean out my freezer. I have some pkgs of chicken in there and we just became herbivores.I am going to give them to my son’s girlfriend so they can use them before they become freezer burned! I am cooking really differently now so my freezer should get nice and clean and.. empty!


Julie April 11, 2013 at 7:04 am

I keep a bread bag in the freezer and whenever we’re down to the heels of a loaf I toss them in that bag. Once it’s full, I make french toast out of all the heels. Top with berries and syrup and everyone’s happy to eat those heels that they rejected in their previous life!


Michelle H. April 11, 2013 at 8:18 am

Love this post! I had brown bananas falling out of the fridge-freezer last night when I was getting ice for my drink. Everytime I open it lately I think to myself “I really need to clean that thing out and see what’s in there.” You have officially inspired me to put it on the to-do list for this weekend, to tackle both the fridge-freezer AND the deep freeze.


emmer April 11, 2013 at 8:46 am

we use bread heels to make pigs-in-blankets. that’s a sausage or hot dog rolled in a bread heel (or other bread product) with mustard or other condiment on the inside of the bread. toothpick together and bake a few minutes til the bread is crispy.
we also use stale (whole grain) bread and cereal to feed the ducks and geese at a local pond. we even collect such from friends. freezer burned veggies go to them as well. my dh hates bread pudding and i don’t have chickens here (yet), so that’s what i can do.
i have 2 cats who appreciate leftover thanxgiving turkey all year from the freezer. dh loathes turkey noodle soup but likes turkey tetrazini. so little bits for kitties, chunks for us.
i do think freezer organization saves a lot of food and i do keep mine arranged in sections so i can find what i’m after. i make dividers for meat, fish, puoltry, fruits, veggies, and grain products. and i have a couple baskets for little stuff that would get lost otherwise.


Bonnie April 11, 2013 at 10:49 am

I know this will only apply to a select few, but we use our unwanted bread heels/crusts and such for our chickens. My neighbors bring me theirs as well. So if you know anyone with chickens, you can always donate the bread crumbs,heels,parts to them. Chickens love, love bread, along with mushy grapes, strawberries and the like. Mine are very appreciative of the donations. 🙂


Kate April 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm

If I have lots of little bits of bread (or buns) lurking in the freezer, I buy a large chicken and make stuffing with the bread. Mix the cubed bread with some melted butter, salt, pepper, sage, parsley, sauted onion and celery, and whatever else you like. Stuff the chicken and bake for around 2 hours. Serve with a salad, and you have an easy dinner that looks like a feast. Leftover chicken never lasts long in my house, and I use the bones, onion ends and celery tops to make more stock.


cathy April 11, 2013 at 1:30 pm

I thought I knew everything that was in the freezer, but I just found several ziplocs of frozen, homegrown tomato puree from…summer 2009. (Oops!) It’s still bright red. Edible? or better for compost?


PoppyEcho April 11, 2013 at 2:05 pm

This post really cheered me up. I was feeling very down on myself yesterday for some “green” infractions of my own rules and budgetary infractions for stupid things like diet cola. An I was thinking “why can’t I be more like Katy, she doesn’t waste money on diet cola, she decides to do things like the compact or the non waste food challenge sand then just sticks to it forever, it gets easy for her after a month, why does it get harder for you?” – that kind of negative self talk. So, your running into a temporary set back was helpful to tell that voice to shut up- “Look, even Katy’s not perfect”. thanks!


Katy April 11, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Very, very not perfect. You are good company. 🙂



LazyretirementgirlJackie April 12, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Bread Crumbs: just sayin’. I cannot keep up with demand for breadcrumbs at my house. On top of bean dishes, faux pasta bakes with spaghetti squash or butternut, various gratins of veggies/ quinoa/ cheese. With a little olive oil drizzled on top, and maybe the oven on convection. There is a whole world of wonderful uses for your breadcrumbs.


Trish April 13, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Your freezer must be like Mary Poppins’ purse to fit all of that in!

My father-in-law has been storing a brand new chest freezer for us at his place for the past six years (he got it when he bought a brand new pick-up, but don’t get me started on that!!). I have been reluctant to move it to our house for two reasons, space and food waste. Maybe if it were filled with pies and ice cream—I would bet that those wouldn’t be forgotten.


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