If you’re like most guys, you probably toss the whole package of chicken cutlets in the freezer; then, when you want to cook the meat, thaw it on the counter till the slabs defrost and you can pry them apart. You leave it up to guesswork.

But there’s a better way, according to Kathy Bernard, acting manager at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Not only will it save you time and effort, it’ll lessen your odds of food poisoning.

How Long Can You Freeze Something For?
“Food is safe in the freezer almost indefinitely, but its quality will decrease over time,” says Bernard. A few ballpark figures to keep in mind: Frozen hamburgers should be used within three to four months, cooked leftovers are good up to six months, and frozen steaks and whole chicken or turkey can last up to a year. Food hoarders, rejoice!

What About Defrosting?
You have three safe options for thawing food: in the fridge, in cold water, or in the microwave. “It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator,” Bernard says. Just chuck the frozen food in and wait until it’s soft. “Small items usually thaw overnight; larger foods may require a day or two. And especially large items like turkeys may take longer, approximately one day for every five pounds of weight,” she says.

“If you don’t like to use the microwave for faster thawing, your best bet is the cold-water method.” Place food in a leakproof plastic bag and float it in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold, and after thawing, cook immediately. “If you’re defrosting food in the microwave, cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving,” Bernard explains.

Buying Frozen Fish
When buying frozen fish, make sure it’s vacuum-sealed or “glazed” (multiple layers) with ice.

Freezing Your Own Fish
Glaze fish by dipping in cold water and freezing on a sheet pan until covered with 1/4-inch of ice, then freeze in a plastic bag for up to six months.