Storing food in the freezer

raspberries

Here are tips for how to freeze food and how long to keep it.

What food can you freeze?

You can freeze almost any food. Some exceptions are eggs in shells and canned foods. (Once the food is out of the can, however, you may freeze it.)

Some foods don't freeze well. Examples are mayonnaise, cream sauce and lettuce. Raw meat and poultry maintain their quality longer than their cooked counterparts because moisture is lost during cooking.

How long is frozen food safe?

vegetables

Food stored constantly at 0 °F will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage.

Freshness and quality at the time of freezing affect the condition of frozen foods. If frozen at peak quality, foods emerge tasting better than foods frozen near the end of their useful life. So freeze items you won't use quickly sooner rather than later. Refer to the freezer storage chart below, which lists optimum freezing times for best quality.

Freezing liquids

When freezing liquids such as stock or juice, be sure to leave some room at the top of the container, as liquid expands during freezing.

Does freezing destroy bacteria & parasites?

Freezing inactivates any microbes — bacteria, yeasts and molds — present in food. Once thawed, however, these microbes can again become active, multiplying under the right conditions to levels that can lead to foodborne illness. Since they will then grow at about the same rate as microorganisms on fresh food, you must handle thawed items as you would any perishable food.

Packaging food for freezer storage

Proper packaging helps maintain quality and prevent "freezer burn." It is safe to freeze meat or poultry directly in its supermarket wrapping but this type of wrap is permeable to air. Unless you will be using the food in a month or two, overwrap these packages for long-term storage using airtight freezer paper, freezer bags, or freezer containers.

It is not necessary to rinse meat and poultry before freezing. Freeze unopened vacuum packages as is. If you notice that a package has accidentally been torn or has opened while food is in the freezer, the food is still safe to use; merely overwrap or rewrap it.

Freezer burn

Freezer burn does not make food unsafe, just dry in spots. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the food. Heavily freezer-burned foods may have to be discarded for quality reasons.

Safe defrosting

There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. It's best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Small items may defrost overnight; most foods require a day or two. (Large items such as turkeys may take longer, approximately one day for each 5 pounds of weight.)

For faster defrosting, place food in a leak proof plastic bag and immerse it in cold water. (If the bag leaks, bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Tissues can also absorb water like a sponge, resulting in a watery product.) Check the water frequently to be sure it stays cold. Change the water every 30 minutes. After thawing, cook immediately.

When microwave-defrosting food, plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving.

Refreezing

Once food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking, although there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through defrosting. After cooking raw foods which previously were frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked foods. If previously cooked foods are thawed in the refrigerator, you may refreeze the unused portion.

If you purchase previously frozen meat, poultry or fish, you can refreeze it.

Cooking frozen foods

Raw or cooked meat, poultry or casseroles can be cooked or reheated from the frozen state. However, it will take approximately one and a half times the usual cooking time for food which has been thawed.

Freezer storage chart (0 °F)

Item Months
Note: Freezer storage is for quality only. Frozen foods remain safe indefinitely.
Bacon and sausage 1 to 2
Casseroles 2 to 3
Egg whites or egg substitutes 12
Frozen dinners and entrees 3 to 4
Gravy, meat or poultry 2 to 3
Ham, hotdogs and Lunchmeats 1 to 2
Meat, uncooked roasts 4 to 12
Meat, uncooked steaks or chops 4 to 12
Meat, uncooked ground 3 to 4
Meat, cooked 2 to 3
Poultry, uncooked whole 12
Poultry, uncooked parts 9
Poultry, uncooked giblets 3 to 4
Poultry, cooked 4
Soups and stews 2 to 3

More about: food safety, food storage, frozen

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Foods to freeze

Berries: Spread berries (or any other small, squishable item, such as hors d'oeuvres, meatballs, drop cookies, and leftover cooked ravioli and tortellini) out on a baking sheet and freeze until solid, then transfer them to a resealable plastic bag. This will prevent them from clumping together.

Flavor cubes: Use ice-cube trays to freeze leftover broth, orange juice, or milk. Freeze portions of pesto, tomato paste, coffee, tea, or wine (for cooking, not drinking). Once solid, the cubes can be transferred to a resealable freezer bag for safekeeping.

Casseroles: Your casserole dish doesn't need to stay in the freezer for months while you wait to eat the panful of lasagna. Instead, line a casserole dish with foil, assemble the uncooked food in it, wrap, freeze until solid, then lift out the foil and the contents. Transfer the block to a freezer bag until you're ready to thaw and cook.

Eggs: You can freeze eggs as long as they are out of the shell and beaten. Store yolks and whites separately in resealable plastic bags. (If you're freezing only yolks, beat each with about a teaspoon of sugar first to keep them fresh.) Thaw under hot running water or in the refrigerator overnight.

Leftover pancakes, waffles, and baked goods: Let them cool, separate with wax paper to prevent sticking, then freeze in freezer bags or glass or stainless steel storage containers. Pop them in the toaster oven when you're ready to eat!

Cakes: To preserve frosted cake (a whole cake or a piece), place it in the freezer uncovered until the frosting is firm (about two hours, depending on the frosting), then wrap in plastic, then foil. To thaw, unwrap the foil and the plastic, then reshape the foil so it creates a tent over the cake. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Let the cake come to room temperature before serving.

Nuts: They contain oils that can turn rancid if you keep them in a pantry.

Firm cheeses: Grate cheeses such as Parmesan, Romano, and aged provolone, and store in a resealable freezer bag.

Fruit: Freeze cubed melon, peaches, mangoes, watermelon, and bananas that will otherwise become overripe, and use them to make smoothies or frozen margaritas.

— Source: Real Simple Magazine

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