The internet is full of helpful guides that tell us how long our food will last in the freezer. Charts abound suggesting raw chicken breast will freeze up to nine months, while cheese only lasts up to six months. Those guides offer us protection from the dangers of food safety gone wrong, right?
Well, not actually.
According to the USDA, those guides aren’t referring to safety at all, because all frozen food is safe to eat, provided it was safe to eat at the time it was frozen.
“Because freezing keeps food safe almost indefinitely, recommended storage times are for quality only,” says the USDA. “Food stored constantly at 0 degrees Fahrenheit will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage.”
All those online charts are indeed still helpful, but they’re simply suggesting the optimum freezing times for the best quality, not for safety. For example, a frozen banana will be safe to eat until the End Times, but it’ll only taste good and maintain its white color and creamy texture for about 3 months (which at this rate, could also be when the End Times come).
The USDA explains why freezing is a safe method of storage: “Freezing keeps food safe by slowing the movement of molecules, causing microbes to enter a dormant stage. Freezing preserves food for extended periods because it prevents the growth of microorganisms that cause both food spoilage and foodborne illness.” Freezing also inactivates any bacteria, yeasts and molds that may be found in your food. (Just remember that once you thaw your food, these microbes can become active again.)
Below are the USDA’s freezer guidelines and below that is an additional guide from FreezerLabels.net that includes more ingredients ― remember, these charts are both guidelines for quality only, not safety. If you’re looking for a food that’s not listed on any of the charts below, the USDA offers some tips that’ll help you determine a food’s quality:
- First check the odor. Some foods will develop a rancid or off odor when frozen for too long, and should be discarded.
- Some may not look picture perfect or be of high enough quality to serve alone but may be edible; use them to make soups or stews.