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How Long is Frozen Food Good for?

Over the past few months, our freezers have become one of the most important appliances in our homes. You know we at Mosaic love frozen food for its waste-reducing and nutrient-locking power, not to mention its convenience. But the question remains: how long is frozen food actually good for? Well, if we’re talking technically, the answer is: forever. Freezing food stops bacterial growth in its tracks, so in theory, frozen food should keep indefinitely.

Ah, but there’s a catch (isn’t there always?). While you won’t get sick from eating foods that have been frozen for a while - as long as they were frozen properly - the USDA does provide general guidelines on how long to keep freezer foods, after which you can expect a marked drop in quality. Oftentimes, this drop in quality is due to freezer burn. Freezer burn is a result of air coming into contact with food, and it sucks both taste and texture out of food, leaving food bland and limp once it’s cooked. Look out for any grayish-brown discoloration and formation of ice crystals on your food.

Generally speaking, most food should last 3-6 months without succumbing to freezer burn. But wrapping foods properly with freezer wrap (not plastic wrap, which lets a lot of air in), or using air-tight, freezer-safe containers can increase their “shelf” life. Taking frequent inventory of your freezer will also help you keep track of what to keep and what to throw out. Label everything with the name of the item and the date - and for even easier safekeeping, keep a corresponding paper list on the fridge so you know what’s inside without having to dig around.

We compiled the guidelines provided by the USDA and this nifty infographic to give you the ultimate guide on how long your freezer foods - from meat to vegetables, and everything in between — will last. Outside of these time frames, they should still be safe — but keep in mind they probably won’t taste great.

Cooked meat

Before freezing any cooked meat, make sure it’s fully cooled. Any steam that gets trapped in your wrapping will spur bacterial growth and invite in freezer burn prematurely.

Type of food How long it lasts
Sausages from chicken, turkey, pork or beef 1-2 months
Ground beef, turkey, pork, and lamb, including burgers 3-4 months
Steaks, chops, and roasts 1-2 months
Ham 1 month

Raw meat

Be sure to use freezer wrap, as plastic wrap still allows air to get in. Vacuum sealing is the most effective way to preserve your meat. Once you thaw it out, it should be safe for 3-5 days in the fridge. During this time you can refreeze it without cooking if you decide not to use it again.

Type of food How long it lasts
Chicken, turkey, pork, or beef sausage 1-2 months
Steaks, chops and roasts 4 months - 1 year
Ham 6 months
Chicken and turkey 1 year
Hot dogs 1-2 months
Bacon 1 month

Bread products

Make mold a thing of the past by keeping bread products in the freezer. Bread defrosts rather quickly (within 10 minutes at room temperature) so you won’t need to devote a lot of time or effort to heating it after freezing.

Type of food How long it lasts
Baked bread / rolls 2-3 months
Baked cookies 6-8 months
Cookie dough 3-6 months
Baked, unfrosted cake 2-3 months
Baked, frosted cake 1 month
Baked pies 1-2 months
Baked muffins 6 months - 1 year
Pancakes 3 month
Waffles 1 month

Seafood

As with meat, air is the enemy when it comes to freezing seafood. Vacuum sealing is the best option — or, you can “glaze” fish by dipping it in cold water, putting the fish on a sheet pan in the freezer until completely frozen, and repeating the process several times until there’s a ¼ inch ice glaze on the fish (afterwards, put the fish into a plastic bag and leave in the freezer until you’re ready to eat it).

Type of food How long it lasts
Lean fish (flounder, sole, cod, snapper, and, perch) 6 months
Fatty fish (salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel) 2-3 months
Cooked fish 4-6 months
Smoked fish 2 months
Raw Shellfish 2-3 months
Lobster 1 year
Crab 10 months
Fresh shrimp, scallops 3-6 months
Clams, mussels, oysters (live) 2-3 months

Fruits/Vegetables

Some vegetables, like onions and peppers, can be frozen without a problem (tip: chopping or coring before freezing will make them easier to cook once thawed). However, most other veggies should be blanched first to help retain their color and nutrients, and to stop enzymes from causing food spoilage.

Fruit freezes just fine — no extra steps necessary! Check out more tips on blanching and freezing fruit here.

Type of food How long it lasts
Citrus, e.g., oranges 3 months
Berries, bananas, and apples 9 months - 1 year
Stonefruit (cherries, peaches, plums) 9 months - 1 year
Most vegetables 8 months - 1 year

Don't freeze veggies with a high water content, like celery, cucumber, or lettuce — they’ll be limp and soggy when thawed. Also avoid freezing raw artichokes, radishes, and potatoes, as they’ll discolor and change texture.

Soups, Stews, and Broths

Freezing soups and stews is a great way to save you time later. Use an air-tight container — if using glass, make sure it’s tempered, as glass can crack when food expands (or, just leave 1-2 inches of space between the top of the liquid and the lid to leave room for expansion within the container). When you’re ready to eat, just throw your soup or stew into a pot and bring to a boil.

Type of food How long it lasts
Soups 2-3 months
Stew meats 3-4 months

Common Cooked Foods

In this category you’ll find foods you've probably put in the fridge, expecting to eat during the next day’s lunch… only to end up throwing away a few days later. No need to waste anymore! These will keep in the freezer for a good amount of time.

Type of food How long it lasts
Casseroles 3 months
Casseroles with eggs 1-2 months
Rice (spread onto a cookie sheet to let it cool and prevent clumps before packing into freezer-safe bags) 2 months
Pasta 3 months
Leftover Pizza 1-2 months

Don't freeze eggs in shells. They’ll expand when frozen and leave a mess in the freezer.

Remember, these time frames are just estimates. If you see any discoloration (usually, white or grayish-brown spots) or crystal formations on the surface of your food, you should throw it out, for your taste buds’ sake. Here’s a few helpful hints to prolong the life of your freezer food:

  • Use vacuum sealed freezer bags when possible. The less air inside your wrapping, the better the chances that your food will stay fresh (that’s why Mosaic’s frozen meals are sealed with air-tight packaging — they keep for up to a year after they’re produced). For more on the best type of packaging for your freezer foods, check out this article.
  • Don’t put packaged food into the freezer as is. Food preppers usually leave some air inside the wrapping, with the expectation that you’ll eat it rather soon. Take it out of the packaging and rewrap it tightly with freezer wrap. For an extra layer of protection, follow it up with a layer of heavy duty aluminum foil.
  • Don’t open the freezer too often. Keeping the freezer as close to 0 degrees is ideal, as opening and closing the freezer fluctuates the temperature and will expedite freezer burn.

There you have it — the Ultimate Guide to how long frozen food is good for. Now get out there, freeze confidently, and pat yourself on the back for helping prevent food waste!

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