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I freeze stuff. Anything from Bolognese to stew. I portion these meals, after they've cooled, into meal-sized Tupperware boxes and stuff them randomly into my crowded freezer.

The problem is that it's difficult to tell which stews are which, and also when they were made. So far, I've been using memory. But I'd like to delegate the task to a system of written or visual aids - so that I don't have to remember.

Has anybody got a good suggestion for a system of frozen food labelling that doesn't suck?

The obvious answer is freezer-safe sticky labels. I fear that these will be annoying; that they will ruin my Tupperware boxes, and that I will be wasting money buying them and writing on them and then having to stick over them.

I'd like some more innovative suggestions, preferably ones that have been tried with success.

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Masking tape is cheap and doesn't ruin containers. – jejorda2 Jan 7 at 19:10
    
@jejorda2 thanks for the suggestion, does it keep-stuck on a plastic Tupperware? – shennan Jan 7 at 19:11
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I use water soluble marker pens – user23614 Jan 7 at 19:19
    
@user23614 Does that not rub off in the freezer? How effective do you find it? – shennan Jan 7 at 19:21
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The water soluble pens work fine, the ice in the freezer doesn't really act wet unless you defrost it. Once the foods out a wipe with hot water leaves the box ready to go again – user23614 Jan 7 at 19:38

10 Answers 10

up vote 29 down vote accepted

As mentioned in comments, masking tape is an excellent solution. It's cheap, it holds well yet comes off easily, it can be torn off at whatever length you need, and you can write on it with just about anything.

Both at home and working at restaurants, I've used masking tape and permanent marker for labeling items for storage in the pantry, fridge, and freezer for years. Just about its only disadvantage is that it's not aesthetically pleasing, but presumably you're not usually showing off your collection of frozen meals. It can also sometimes leave behind traces of adhesive after being stored for a long time, but that's easily scrubbed off by hand.

A couple extra tips:

  • The regular beige stuff is fine; there are blue "painting tape" varieties that claim better adhesion and easier removal, but they're not worth the extra money. Plus, if you're writing in black marker, beige offers better contrast.
  • Labeling is easier if you tear a strip off the roll before you write on it. I don't usually have problems with the marker bleeding through, but you probably want to write on a non-decorative surface in case of stray marks.
  • Where possible, stick your labels on lids (if you'll be reheating in the same container) and pull them off at room temperature. Excessive heat or cold seems to increase the chance of residual adhesive, and you probably don't want even a mild, temporary glue cooking in your oven or microwave.
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I like the detail of this answer. I will trial this technique before marking as correct. – shennan Jan 7 at 19:35
    
This is really a good answer. Labeling things in general is easy, but making tape allows you to label a container many times. – Escoce Jan 7 at 19:39
    
This is how I go about solving the problem as well. Particularly pay attention to the third point as you should remove the tape before placing the container in the microwave if that is the intention. Its better to have to replace the tape with a new one rather than have to deal with melted glue. Also note that the mild glue used on most masking tape removes very cleanly and easily with most dish soaps, so don't worry if you forget to remove the tape before throwing the dish into dish water. Just try to remember to remove it first if making use of a dishwasher though due to their heat. – Prof. Bear Jan 8 at 16:02
    
Additional tip: If the masking tape does leave a residue, and it doesn't come off easily with just soap and water, smearing something oily (cooking oil, butter, petroleum jelly, etc.) on the residue and letting it sit overnight should soften the glue enough to make it easy to wash off. Worked great for me when I needed to clean some old masking tape glue off a window pane. – Ilmari Karonen Jan 9 at 19:02
    
@IlmariKaronen : there's a product called 'Goo Gone' that works great for getting glue reside off. For flat glass, like a window pane, you can also use a razor blade to scrape it off ... but unfortunately most food containers aren't that flat. – Joe Jan 13 at 1:07

For food storage, I use quart containers (and pints) that I order in bulk from Amazon (like the ones you get at a deli) and zip lock bags...no brand name or funny shaped containers. The quart and pint containers all take the same lid, so no need to search. Then I just use a sharpie to write on these before placing them in the freezer or fridge. I also write on the zip lock bags. For the quart containers, the sharpie just wipes or washes off the lid. Then I can re-use. I don't reuse the zip lock bags.

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I'd actually recommend painter's tape, despite the "not worth the money" comment in another answer. I find that it doesn't dry out as much as masking tape does, so it sticks longer and is less affected by wet (because it's designed to get wet). It releases well. We also use it to label our lidded canisters with the contents and "best by" date of the current package. As you can see, contrast with a black sharpie really isn't an issue.

Painter's tape

It comes in a wide variety of widths and is relatively cheap (considering you only need a few inches).

Also, for removal ease, you might consider folding under one corner or edge so it's easier to start pulling.

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Use a "permanent" marker meant for writing on CDs on the containers directly. When storage is over, clean the writing with isopropyl alcohol.

The idea is similar to moscafj's, but unlike a nonpermanent marker, it won't smudge when you hold the boxes and move them around.

Update If you are uncomfortable using isopropyl alcohol, Pete Kirkham suggests in comments that dish soap plus elbow grease are sufficient to remove this kind of pen from a plastic box.

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This answer will no-doubt be valuable to some, but I feel like the added effort in cleaning the box makes it less of an efficient system. Some, less-lazy labellers my find this helpful. – shennan Jan 7 at 19:47
    
I use use the cheapest vodka I can find to clean stuff around my kitchen, including the containers I've written on, so basically the same idea... ;-) – Fabby Jan 7 at 20:51
    
I'm not sure what the difference is between a "sharpie" and a "permanent marker meant for writing on CDs"... – Marti Jan 7 at 21:01
    
@Marti I meant to use markers which don't "just wipe off the lid". I don't know all details about the linguistically correct use of "sharpie", but to me, moscafj's answer clearly refers to the kind of marker I know as "non-permanent", which I assumed to have the subtext "because with a permanent one, box reuse is difficult". – rumtscho Jan 7 at 21:03
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Sharpies are marketed as, and on some surfaces are, "permanent" markers. – Marti Jan 7 at 21:04

Adhesive (office) tape, paper, scissors and a pen.

http://sweetclipart.com/office-desk-tape-dispenser-89

I've always used the most inexpensive solution: simply cut the cheapest paper you can find (I use printer paper) into long strips or rectangles (that you then cut down into strips). You can write as much or as little info on it as you want and vary the size of the paper accordingly. Simply stick a piece of adhesive tape on top and attach to the container. I cut printer paper into rectangles because that makes perfectly-sized shopping lists (5 by 15 cm or 2" by 6") and they're then easily cut down to fit the info you need on a freezer label.

Most office tape will stick excellently without losing strength in the freezer but they won't mark the container in any way and can easily be removed. Heat of the container is not an issue. Condensation can weaken the paper but removing the tape has never been an issue for me.

The advantage is that most households will have all of this on hand, it's dirt cheap and you can make the labels as large or small as you want. My labels can be as simple as "tomato soup - DEC 2015" or as detailed as "Chili Con Carne, Sep 2015, 470g, Extra Spicy (Ghost Pepper), Pork+Beef, Kidney beans"

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Chalk Pen!

A chalk pen from Amazon

Chalk pens like the ones that bars use to write on blackboards work perfectly for writing on Tupperware. You can read them legibly indefinitely, you don't need to mess around with sticking labels onto things and, when you're done, you can just wipe it off with a damp cloth.

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In addition to masking tape, which I do like for some purposes, we use erasable labels, like these. They are permanently stuck on (but don't seem to hard to remove, though I use glass not plastic containers), you write on them, and then use the included eraser to erase them so you can write on them again. They seem to survive the dishwasher fine, which is an added bonus.

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My sister has a stainless steel mixing bowl with a butterfly sticker on it, courtesy of my niece. It's been there for years, now. It's kind of upside-down and at an odd angle, but there's no removing it, no matter how many trips that bowl takes through the dishwasher. – Marti Jan 7 at 21:32
    
I'm sure that's an annoying problem, but the labels I'm talking about don't have any trouble being removed when you decide to do so. Children's stickers are generally designed with glue that has one purpose - to annoy parents as much as possible. – Joe M Jan 8 at 18:52

Similar to Joe M's answer, you can also get dry erase tape.

It is a roll of tape you can stick on and write on with standard dry erase markers.

From a quick google search, you can find some here, but it is readily available elsewhere. enter image description here

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I'll add on to the above suggestion of painter's tape with a bit more specificity. Chef Thomas Keller uses green FrogTape painter's tape for storage at the French Laundry, and I'd pretty much take anything he does as gospel. It is easily removable, doesn't slide off the container if it gets wet, and is relatively cheap.

Anything you do as far as food labeling is going to cost a bit of money: if you write directly on the container, you'll have to replace the container eventually. If not, you'll obviously have to purchase something to stick onto the container itself. But it is a sound practice and worth investing in, especially if you freeze a lot, as you say you do.

http://robbreport.com/Fine-Dining/Icons--Innovators-Thomas-Keller-Inn-Coming

http://frogtape.com/

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White electrician's tape. Double a bit of the end over to act as a removal handle, and please, for good freezer storage, vacuum seal. It's cheap if you buy it in rolls.

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