Asking for a Friend: How Long Can Food Last in the Freezer?

I have a phobia of getting food poisoning. Ever since I learned the "S" word—salmonella—my brain decided to add it to the list of things I stress about on the reg. My mom likes to tell me that I when I was younger I refused to be in the kitchen when she was handling raw chicken because I was afraid of catching salmonella by osmosis. I've somewhat gotten past that hurtle, but I still spend an inordinate amount of time searching the internet for things like "can frozen food go bad," and "how long does cooked meat last in the fridge." Yeah, I'm tons of fun.

For people like me, the freezer is actually a great thing when it comes to food safety. "Before the dawn of TV dinners, freezing food was used as a preservation method," says Ashley Lonsdale, Daily Harvest’s head chef and recipe developer. Unlike your fridge, which can only keep foods fresh for so long (ahem, milk), Lonsdale says that food that is frozen is safe to eat almost indefinitely. (Yup, let that sink in. Indefinitely.)

However, just because frozen food can last forever doesn't mean that it'll always be something you want to eat. The quality and taste of said foods can degrade over time—the longer it's in the freezer, the more at-risk it is to develop freezer burn (ice crystals that can damage food).

"I recommend consuming store-bought frozen fruits and vegetables by the 'best by' date provided on the package," Lonsdale says. (Same goes for other types of store-bought frozen food.) Pre-frozen foods have excellent longevity, she says, because they undergo a process called Individual Quick Freezing (IQF) that helps them last longer without freezer burn. "The IQF process ensures the preservation of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients," she explains.

For foods that aren't subject to IQF (basically, anything you buy fresh or prepare that you want to freeze), the rules are a little different. "Meats can typically last up to six months in the freezer, while breads can last around four," says Jimi Sturgeon-Smith, Chief Operating Officer of Cali'flour Foods. Fruits and vegetables that you freeze can last around eight to 10 months, she adds.

Lonsdale also recommends following a "first in, first out" rule. Basically, eat your frozen foods in roughly the order in which you froze them, because they don't stay fresh as long as the store-bought stuff. "When I freeze a big batch of a winter stew or soups I made myself, I try to consume it within three months," she adds.

But as for the dreaded freezer burn... "If you’re seeing freezer burn on your items, it likely means that it wasn’t wrapped or contained tight enough, or that it’s been stored for too long," Sturgeon-Smith says. She says that food with freezer burn is safe to eat (something I have definitely Googled), but probably isn't going to taste great since again, the ice formation can affect taste and texture.

"For the best results, I recommend reusable freezer bags and making sure to remove all the air before sealing and storing," Lonsdale adds. "Also, don’t forget to fully cool any dish before storing." Looks like this food-borne-illness-fearing human woman should be fully embracing the chill.

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