Teri Gault and her family survived without power for five full days when the historic Northridge Earthquake hit their Los Angeles home in 1994.
Gault, a lifestyle and money saving expert who founded the online shopping aid thegrocerygame.com, said it was because she always keeps a full freezer.
"If you have a power failure, you have twice the amount of time for your food to stay frozen if it's full," Gault said. "If we had gone on to day six, we would have been fine."
Though most families don't find themselves in such extreme situations, stocking your freezer could also serve an everyday purpose in modern times - saving you money.
Gault said the recent news released by the United States Department of Agriculture of a decreased crop yield due to the extreme drought conditions could heighten the price of many grocery staples in the coming months, including meat, milk, soy and corn. That's why she urges the users of her website not to wait to buy staple items when they need them.
"That's the wrong time to trigger buying. It's not smart investing," she said. "People don't realize that if you buy what you need every week and only what you need, you will pay full price for 80 percent of what's in your cart."
How long it lasts
Freezer storage is for quality only. Frozen foods remain safe indefinitely.
Bacon and Sausage 1 to 2 months
Casseroles 2 to 3 months
Egg whites or egg substitutes 12 months
Frozen Dinners and Entrees 3 to 4 months
Gravy, meat or poultry 2 to 3 months
Ham, Hotdogs and Lunchmeats 1 to 2 months
Meat, uncooked roasts 4 to 12 months
Meat, uncooked steaks or chops 4 to 12 months
Meat, uncooked ground 3 to 4 months
Meat, cooked 2 to 3 months
Poultry, uncooked whole 12 months
Poultry, uncooked parts 9 months
Poultry, uncooked giblets 3 to 4 months
Poultry, cooked 4 months
Soups and Stews 2 to 3 months
Wild game, uncooked 8 to 12 months
By buying when things are on sale - which Gault said usually run in 12-week cycles - it's never necessary to pay full price for anything.
"I haven't paid full price for meat since probably 1980," she said. "When it's 'buy one, get one free,' I buy eight."
Though you risk things like freezer burn, Gault said the USDA deems anything in the freezer to be "indefinitely" safe to eat. She recommends only buying three months worth of a particular meat at a time.
To keep track of what she has in the freezer, Gault keeps a chart of what type of meat she has, how many pieces and the date it was frozen.
"Then, before opening my freezer, I can look at my inventory instead of spending a lot of time with the door open," she said.
Gault said it's important to check packaging for tears and to be careful when moving things around in the freezer.
"Air is the enemy of any food in the freezer," she said.
Jackie Forsht, a master food preserver through the Penn State Coop-erative extension, agreed, adding that the ice crystals that form will cause the tissues and fibers in your product to break down.
Forsht's best suggestion to combat freezer burn is a vacuum sealer, which can range in price from $10 to $300.
"You pretty much get what you pay for," she said. "But even the smaller ones are better than nothing."
Forsht said it's also important to start with a good product - expired meat or overly ripe produce won't get any better in the freezer.
"Even though freezing dramatically slows the deterioration process, it doesn't stop it completely," she said.
Freezing certain foods can also change their consistency - and ultimately their range of use. Gault said she's frozen dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese, but she's more likely to put them in sauces, smoothies or other recipes than eat or drink them plain.
She warns to remember to pour some liquid out of cartons before freezing, as it will expand. For yogurt cups, Gault is sure to throw them in a plastic bag in case they pop their seams. Also, make sure to freeze dairy products before they hit their expiration dates.
Because of her frozen stock pile, Gault said she usually only has to shop once a week to get her fresh produce. Otherwise she'll hit regular or seasonal sales - buying baking ingredients when they're on sale during the holidays or salad dressings and condiments when their prices are reduced for summer barbecues.
Above all else, Gault said shopping sales and utilizing her freezer just makes everything easier.
"I'm all about easy. I don't like spending a lot of time on stuff," she said. "Who has the time?"
For Forsht, buying things when they're cheap and freezing them for later or when they're out of season is the main reason her freezer is always full.
"Things that are frozen retain taste and vitamin content wonderfully," she said. "You can have beautiful, locally grown produce in the winter at a much better price."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.