My freezer is the repository for all un-eaten things great and small. That last pork chop no one wanted? In the freezer! A batch of pierogi for fall meals? In the freezer! Some strawberries about to go bad? Yup, in the freezer! With so much going in there, it might be weeks or (more likely) months before I get around to using many of these things. Which raises some good questions: How long do freezer foods really keep? Do they have an expiration date?
There's a short and a long answer here. The short answer is that foods will keep indefinitely in a frozen state. That's right — as long as your freezer is plugged in and functioning normally, frozen foods will never expire, go bad, or pose any health issues.
I'm sure many of you are giving me quizzical looks right now, so let's jump into the longer answer: while foods will technically keep forever, they do not actually stay tasty forever.
Freezer burn is the foe of any frozen food. It creeps into packages, covers once-delicious foods with frost, and then sucks the moisture out of them. When thawed, foods that developed freezer burn look desiccated and limp. You can cook them, technically, but they will lack good flavor or texture.
Freezer burn is inevitable in even the most well-packaged foods. Vacuum sealing is the best deterrent. Second to that is sucking or pressing as much air out of your package as possible. This is one big reason why I use plastic bags for freezer foods instead of other containers — it's much easier to get the air out of a bag than a stiff plastic or glass container.
As a general rule of thumb, frozen food will keep for three months in a standard home freezer before starting to show signs of freezer burn. This is true for raw meats, cooked meats, prepared foods, breads, and anything else you might think of freezing. This said, if you pull something out of the freezer that's older than three months and it doesn't show signs of freezer burn, it's probably still good to eat. How the food was packaged, how often you opened the freezer (which quickens freezer burn), and other factors can extend the "shelf life" of your frozen food.
Do you find this to be true? How long do you keep foods in your freezer?
For more information, take a look at this handy chart from the FDA:
→ Refrigerator and Freezer Food "Best By" Guideleines from the FDA
(Image: Emma Christensen)