Freezing is an easy and convenient way to save time and money when it comes to feeding your family. You can make meals ahead and freeze them for future use. You can freeze seasonal fruits and vegetables for the winter. You can even freeze random leftovers for what my kids know as our no-cook “leftover surprise” night.
But freezing does present two possible problems. First, how can you know how long a frozen food item is safe to eat? And, secondly, what will happen to all that frozen food if the power goes out?
Most frozen foods remain safe to eat almost indefinitely. Therefore, most storage “times” for frozen foods are merely suggested times for best taste and quality only.
Keeping in mind that the federal government is conservative with its estimates, here are some general guidelines from FoodSafety.gov and nchfp.uga.edu.
- Ground meat: 3 to 4 months
- Fresh meat: 6 to 12 months
- Poultry: 12 months
- Fish: 3 to 6 months
- Pork: 6 to 8 months
- Processed meat (hot dogs, sausage lunch meat, bacon): 1 to 2 months
- Leftovers (cooked meat): 2 to 6 months
- Butter: 5 to 6 months
- Hard cheese: 6 to 12 months
- Soft cheese: 4 months
- Eggs (removed from shell): 12 months
- Milk: 1 month
- Fruits: 12 months
- Cooked vegetables: 1 month
- Raw vegetables: 12 months
- Onions (raw): 3 to 6 months
- Baked goods: 6 months
The best place for long-term storage is the back of your stand-up freezer or the bottom of your chest freezer. Use the freezer door for times you use up frequently, since door items are subjected to more temperature fluctuation.
Packaging matters. Resist the urge to place an item in the freezer in its store-bought package unless the packaging is intended for the freezer. Be sure to let cooked foods cool before packaging them to help speed up the freezing process and to help them retain their natural color, flavor and texture.
Then use containers that are moisture-vapor resistant, durable, leak-proof and easy to seal. When placing foods in the package, allow enough room for some expansion during the freezing process. Mark your packages with pens and labels designed for freezer use.
Although you may think you’ll never forget what is in that big Tupperware container, you just might in a couple of months. Label the food with its contents and the date you are freezing it. That way, you can try to follow the same first-in, first-out rule for your freezer that you follow with your pantry foods.
But What If You Lose Electricity?
But what if the power goes out? How long will frozen food last then?
Although you can invest in fuel-powered generators to keep your freezer running for a time, in a long-term emergency, you may not be able to consume all your frozen food before you run out of fuel. As a result, no emergency food storage plan should rely on frozen food.
What if you do not use a generator? To maximize your freezing time during a power outage, try to keep your freezer as full as possible. A full freezer operates more efficiently than an empty or sparsely used freezer. Consider freezing plastic bottles that are filled about two-thirds full with water as a way to keep your freezer fuller. The water may come in handy during an emergency as well.
In a power outage, the food in a full free-standing freezer will keep for about 48 hours if its door remains shut. Food in a full chest-type freezer may last as much as 24 hours longer – again, if cold air is not lost through an opened door.
During a power outage, you can quickly take out items that you will use in the short term and place them in coolers. This planning ahead process will help you keep the freezer door shut and help keep your frozen foods colder longer.
Here are some other tips:
- Breads will defrost more quickly than meats and vegetables.
- Most thawed or partially thawed foods may be safely refrozen if they still contain visible ice crystals or if the appliance has a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
- If the color of an item has changed, if an unusual odor is present, or if the item feels warm, discard it.
- Covering the freezer with blankets will help it retain its temperature. (Avoid covering vents.)
Additionally, it is worth it to invest in a quality freezer thermometer. Most frozen food storage guidelines are based on a maintained freezer temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degree Celsius) or colder.
What freezer tips would you add? Do you eat frozen foods that are many years old? Share your advice in the section below: