What to Do With a Freezer Full Of Rotten Food?

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A freezer could break down at any moment, and sometimes it isn’t discovered until it’s too late. If you have a freezer full of rotten food and wonder what to do, this guide is for you.

Things you may need to safely remove the freezer and rotten food

Before getting started, we recommend going to a local hardware store and picking up some protective equipment to make the task easier.

  • Gloves (thick rubber gloves are recommended, they won’t tear as easily as single-use gloves).
  • Disposable coverall suit (adds a protective layer on top of your clothes or skin).
  • Rain boots or shoe covers (you wouldn’t want to ruin your shoes while cleaning, so a pair of rain boots or shoe covers are a good option for this).
  • Face shield (you wouldn’t want any liquids to splash into your face during the cleanup, so a face shield is a must).
  • Nose clip (optional, but if you’re sensitive to the putrid smell of rotten food a nose clip is a great add-on).
  • Bleach (or similar disinfecting household products).

Should you clean the freezer or dispose of it?

If there’s nothing wrong with the freezer and it’s relatively new, you could try cleaning it. However, the putrid smell may not go away until a few weeks or even months after fully cleaning it. The strong odors could very likely stick to the surfaces, or some liquids may have leaked into internal areas out of reach.

If you can’t live with the small and/or are unable to properly clean the freezer. disposing of it is your only choice.

Cleaning a freezer full of rotten foods is actually manageable though, so it’s a viable option if you want to salvage a fully functional freezer from the scrapyard.

Should you clean the smelly freezer yourself or call a professional?

There are times where doing it yourself may not suffice, and professionals should be called in to take care of the cleaning process.

Do it yourself if…

  • Most meats and other foods are still in sealed packages. That way they can easily be removed and disposed of.
  • No maggots are present. Maggots can transmit pathogens to any part of the freezer, but if they haven’t yet appeared your freezer hasn’t been shut off for a long period of time.
  • No blood or fluids have leaked onto the floor. 
  • The smell is still bearable. This is a sign that your freezer hasn’t been shut off for a long period of time.

Call a professional if…

  • Fluids have leaked onto the floor. Liquids from meats could have been combined with liquids from other foods, and it’s likely a health hazard if you don’t clean it properly.
  • Maggots are present. Maggots can crawl everywhere, and spread pathogens to other parts of your house. Make sure they’re properly exterminated by a professional.
  • You worry about health hazards. A freezer full of rotten foods is very likely to pose a severe health hazard, and cleaning shouldn’t be taken lightly upon.
  • Neighbors complain about the smell. A professional service is specialized in these types of cleanups, and they have access to strong cleaning agents that we can’t get in our local hardware stores.

How to empty a freezer full of rotten foods

If you’ve come to the conclusion that you can remove the rotten foods yourself, it’s time to get started. Better sooner than later. 

Below is a general guide on how to empty a freezer full of rotten foods.

Take into consideration that upright freezers and chest freezers have different layouts, and chest freezers may have a drain plug at the bottom which allows for easy drainage of liquids. The drain plug could help you drain the freezer faster, but it could also cause a mess. Keep the plug in if you’re unsure how to drain the freezer.

#1 Suit up and stay safe

First, we strongly recommend that you wear protective equipment. Clearing and cleaning a freezer full of rotten foods brings you in close contact with lots of pathogens, and you should at least protect yourself with a face shield and a pair of rubber gloves to prevent liquids from getting onto your skin.

#2 Cover the floors and open windows

First, open the windows. We recommend opening more windows to cross ventilate your home, that way fresh air is mixed with the foul odors from the freezer.

If the freezer hasn’t leaked at all, now is the time to cover the floors. We recommend going with a combination of plastic sheeting at the bottom with a canvas drop cloth on top. The canvas drop cloth will absorb any spills, while the plastic sheeting prevents the liquids from getting in contact with your floors.

#3 Remove racks, bins, and shelving

Racks, bins, and shelving should be removed first. You can put them in a bag and seal it, before taking them outside for a rinse.

Wash them all off, and leave them outside for a few days. This will naturally deodorize them. After a few days you can wash them off again, and they’ll be as good as new.

#4 Use a shovel or bucket to scoop up the contents

Now it’s time to get messy. If your freezer is one big mess, we recommend using a shovel to scoop up any solids. A wheelbarrow could be useful, but a large bucket with a lid is more suitable if you have to carry the contents through your house.

Continue this process until contents have been removed, and then start scooping the liquids up as well.

#5 Wipe off all surfaces

You can get Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, but you can also use microfiber cloths with a disinfectant of your choice. Wipe off all surfaces until clean, and apply a disinfectant spray.

Leave your freezer doors open, and allow it to deodorize while keeping the room properly ventilated. Expect this process to take a few days (or even weeks).

Repeat the wiping process if your freezer still smells.

#6 Vinegar, oats, or coffee grounds as natural deodorizers

If you want to speed up the deodorizing process, you can add a cup of vinegar, oats, or coffee grounds to the freezer. According to CNET, this could help absorb bad odors (source).