Freezer Storage Times Depend on Multiple Factors

Freezer storage times depend on a few key factors.

Freezing does not improve food. It can’t turn back the clock on overripe, over cooked or spoiled food.

It does, however, put bacteria into a state of hibernation while frozen, bacteria will continue to multiple while food is freezing and while food thaws.

So you start with a good product and freeze it, but how long will last? For a quick answer read my three rules of thumb for freezer storage times.

If you want to know what factors determine how long something will keep in the freezer read on.

Type of Food
First you must know what does and doesn’t freeze well. Beyond that there are two factors to consider, salt and enzymes.

Salt is usually a preservative of food, but in the freezer salt causes fats to go rancid faster. This means that the freezer storage life of salty foods like ham, bacon, sausages and deli or lunch meats is short. The USDA only recommend one month for these items. Tons of people have frozen them longer without problems and it's often debated how long these can freeze for. If you do freeze them for more than a month I recommend using the inspection rule. If you think it’s bad throw it out.

Enzymes cause veggies to continue ripening or over-ripening. This chemical reaction can continue in the freezer. To stop it the veggies must be cooked enough to break down the enzymes thus most veggies are blanched or cooked before being frozen. If they are only frozen for short lengthens of time they do not have to be blanched first because there isn't enough time for the enzymes to destroy their quality. This process varies from vegetable to vegetable. Learn more about how to freeze vegetables and frozen vegetables.

Organs, those things most Westerners won’t eat such as livers, hearts, giblets and tongue, don’t last long in the freezer either. Try to use these within 3-6 months.

How It’s Packaged
Quality freezer containers are essential for protecting your food. Something frozen in a storage bag might only last days before getting freezer burn. The same item in a freezer quality plastic bag can last months and in a vacuum sealed freezer container it could last years.

Quality freezer containers are an investment to protect the time and money you've spent on your freezer cooking.

Freezer Temperature
Your freezer temperature is one of the most important factors in freezer storage time. Self or auto defrosting freezers do not keep a constant temperature and are not ideal for long term freezer storage.

Your freezer should stay at 0 F (-18 C) constantly. Before adding large batches of food you can lower the temperature to -10 F (-23 C). For every 5 F degrees above zero your expected freezer storage time is cut in half.

Number of Power Outs And Duration
Power outs can cause the temperature in the freezer to rise and the food to start thawing. The more often this happens the shorter the freezer storage times you'll get out of your food. The longer the power out the more likely you’re food is to start thawing.

I’ve been there dealt with frequent power outs (five power outs the first month I lived in Maidstone Saskatchewan, some up to 3 hours long) and it might seem counterintuitive, but the best thing to do is keep the freezer full and keep foods stacked close together.

A full freezer takes longer to thaw. If you don’t have enough food freeze water in bags or pans and fill your freezer with items from the pantry like flour that can store in the freezer instead.

Be sure to properly organize your freezer (raw meat on the bottom, meals above that, fruit and veggies above that and baked good on the top) and prepare your freezer for power outs with my handy dandy ice cube tip.

Amount of Surface Area
The more surface area the more chances there are for water to get sucked out of your food into the frigid air in your freezer leaving you with a freezer burnt meal. Package things for long term storage in the largest size that is practical for your family. A large roast is less likely to develop freezer burn than a stack of steaks or pounds of ground meat.

Learn more about preventing freezer burn.

Spices and Flavorings
Some spices and flavors can change in the freezer. I haven’t had much problem with anything except acids getting stronger, but if a meal is in the freezer too long you might need to adjust the seasoning when reheating.

Strong smelling foods like raw onions or curry sauce should be double or triple wrapped so other foods don't absorb their scent.

Read my three rules of thumb for freezer storage.

Learn more about getting started with freezer cooking.

Got questions? Ask me your freezer cooking questions and get answers.

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