How Long Can You Keep Food in Freezer Storage?
Throw out those multi-page freezer storage charts and learn three rules to help you determine how long to keep food in the freezer.
Skip to the Three Rules of Thumb for Freezer Storage Times
This is a question that is often asked but it's not easy to give storage times for the freezer because there are a lot of variables.
The type of food, how it’s packaged, freezer temperature, the number of power outs and their durations, the amount of surface area are all factors.
And this is assuming, of course, that the food can freeze well to begin with.
I always write the date on the package when freezing food, I want to know how old it is. It’s also why I don’t add the date to my freezer inventory sheet because the length of time is a minor factor. However, if you have multiples of an item in the freezer you should always use the oldest first.
Thawing and refreezing due to power outs means the texture changes and it could be unsafe to eat. If this is a problem you face often you need to know when it’s safe to refreeze food.
Every freezer cook should prepare their freezer for power outs as well. With this simple tip you'll be prepared in minutes.
We’ll talk about the factors that affect storage time of frozen food in detail but first I’ll give you some quick guidelines to use as a rule of thumb.
The One Year Rule
The Three Month Rule
The Inspection Rule
As a general rule of thumb I never plan to keep things in the freezer more than one year.
Storing things longer than that is simply an uneconomical use of space, electricity and an unnecessary risk that when you go to use your food it won’t be appetizing.
Despite the ‘fresh’ food available in the grocery store daily I still believe food has seasons.
When food is in season and at it’s peak is the ideal time to stock up and freeze some and there is nothing wrong with freezing a year supply but no reason to assume you won’t or can’t stock up again next season.
When it comes to meats I feel the same way. If you buy in bulk and get more than a year supply share your abundance with others or plan to split the cost and the meat with a friend, family member or neighbor.
When it comes to freezer meals compared to individually wrapped meats, dairy, fruit, veggies and baked goods I use the three month rule.
Only make enough of any given freezer meal to last three months or a single season.
With the three month rule you get the real benefits of freezer cooking. Your constantly using your freezer meals. Your freezer contents get turned over so you have room for new meals and they aren't in there long enough to go bad.
Plus, if you really think about it, other than a few year round favorites, we eat different things during each season anyway because of the weather.
We have a natural instinct to not eat bad stuff. If it looks freezer burnt you probably won’t want to eat it-it's completely safe just dry and unappetizing. If it smells bad it either is bad or absorbed other smells in freezer (due to poor packaging) and you won’t want to eat it.
We’ve learned that we shouldn’t waste food and that wasting food is like throwing money away but getting sick is a waste too. So, when in doubt throw it out.
This is the third rule for a reason, package it right and follow the first two rules and you’ll rarely have to deal with this one. But if you do then simply inspect the food.
Ask yourself if it was packaged well, stayed frozen, looks OK and smells OK. If so you can probably eat if, if not toss it. And please remember if it can make you sick it can make your dog or cat sick too!
Want more details? Learn about the factor that influence storage times in the freezer.
Got questions? Ask me your freezer cooking questions and get answers.