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Food Safety: How Long Can You Leave Food in the Freezer?

Frozen food storage length is a question of food quality rather than food safety. Storing food in the freezer at 0 degrees F causes microbes, such as bacteria, mold and yeast already present in food to become inactive indefinitely. Loss of quality includes changes in taste, texture, moisture content, color and aroma. Safety issues arise when freezer temperatures exceed 0 degrees F or frozen foods are improperly thawed. Thawing in the refrigerator, microwave and cold water are all recommended methods, according to the USDA.

Time-Table For Frozen Foods

  • Store uncooked meats, such as roasts, steaks, chops wild game and whole poultry in the freezer for up to 12 months.
  • Store bacon and sausage in the freezer for up to 2 months.
  • Store casseroles, cooked meats, gravies, soups and stews in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  • Store egg whites and egg substitutes in the freezer for up to 12 months.
  • Store entrees and dinners in the freezer for up to 4 months.
  • Store breads in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  • Store cookie dough in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Food Quality

Color changes take place when food is stored long-term in the freezer. These color changes will not affect the safety of the food, but quality will be affected if freezer burn has taken place. Freezer burn is caused by air and moisture coming in contact with the food and drying it out in spots. Indications of freezer burn on meats are gray, white or leathery spots. These can be cut out before or after cooking. If large areas of the meat are affected, discard for quality purposes. Freezer burn will cause changes in flavor and texture of food.

Nutritional Value

Freezing does not cause loss of nutritional value in foods with the exception of vegetables that require blanching. Blanching or cooking vegetables briefly in boiling water prior to freezing may cause some nutritional loss due to the nature of the process. This process is necessary to halt enzyme production in certain vegetables to retain quality and freshness when frozen.

Prolong Freshness With Proper Storage 

Choose the correct frozen food storage containers to prolong the quality of your frozen foods. Besides being reusable, rigid freezer containers are easily stacked in the freezer and can hold foods high in liquid content. Although flexible bags and freezer wrapping paper are disposable, they will protect your food from freezer burn and changes in texture and color. Use glass canning jars designated for freezer use as another alternative. Using wax paper, leftover food containers, milk cartons and paper cartons will all shorten the life of your frozen foods by allowing air and moisture to enter the product.

Foods That Do Not Freeze Well

Certain foods do not freeze well. They can become waterlogged, soft, mealy and lose color, flavor or aroma. These include salads, meringue, icings, custard fillings, sour cream, mayonnaise and salad dressing. Certain spices, such as pepper, garlic, green peppers and cloves become bitter when frozen. The flavor of paprika and onion may become altered.

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