I actually have two freezers: the one attached to the refrigerator and a small chest freezer. I try to keep things ready to grab to make meals in the refrigerator one and use the other for more long term storage of meats and veggies. Here is how I tackle cleaning these out:
- Pull everything out of the refrigerator and organize in some fashion that I can see pretty much everything in there. If there is any old, gross, or mystery things, I dispose of them. No sense taking up space with things you'll never use. I use storage containers to help keep things stacked up neatly
- Pull everything out of the chest freezer, grouped in piles by type. Ready to eat meals (if there are any) go in one pile, veggies in another, chicken in another, venison in another, etc. If there is anything gross, I throw it out. If something has been in there a long time (possibly forgotten about), I either will move it to the top/front to ensure it will be used quickly, or if I decide that we aren't actually going to use it (family didn't like or whatever), I'll list it on Freecycle, being completely honest about what it is (homemade, opened, expired), how old it is (properly frozen food never actually goes bad, but the quality will suffer eventually), the condition it is in, etc and see if someone else can use it. I've actually made people cry with joy by giving them food from a freezer clean-out because it meant they had something to eat for a few days! If the freezer needs to be defrosted, I'll put all this food in coolers and do it now. If not, I go on to the next step.
- Wipe down the seals and outside (as well as the interior if it was defrosted) with vinegar to prevent mold growth and/or kill any mold that may be lurking.
- Put the food back in the freezer in some organized fashion. This varies depending on the exact contents of the freezer at the time, but I will designate the basket for something, the section right under if for something I don't need to access very often, and will use bags or boxes to keep the rest organized. Because of this, I can easily get something even from the bottom of the freezer.
- Incorporate any discoveries of things that should probably be used up soon in the meal plan for the next week or so. If it has been a long enough time since you've cleaned out the freezer, you may be able to skip a week of grocery shopping!