The most popular modern food preservation method is a freezer. Except for the risk of power loss and the resultant spoilage (if more than ~24 hours), freezing food is simple, easy and convenient.
A common question about freezing food is how long will food last in the freezer? Here is some helpful information about frozen food in the freezer, and guidelines for ‘shelf life’…
Be sure that your freezer is at least 0 degrees F (-18°C), preferably -5 degrees F (-21°C). Check this by getting yourself a freezer thermometer and leave it in your freezer for several hours before measuring.
I use this one:
Taylor Classic Series Large Dial Fridge/Freezer Thermometer
Though food will freeze at 32°F, you really should keep your freezer at 0°F or less.
Why? Because low temperature microbes will still develop below 32°F, but are very much stalled at 0°F or below.
Note: Shelf life of freezer food is approximately doubled at 0°F compared to 20°F!
Tip: Keep your freezer fairly full for energy efficiency. Fill it with food, not air. It takes less energy to keep foods at freezing temperatures than it does keeping air at freezing temperatures. If the power goes out, the frozen foods will help maintain freezing temperatures for a time (an air filled freezer will warm rapidly).
Foods will eventually spoil in the freezer. Some microbes will still grow at low temperatures, albeit very slowly (the colder it is, the slower they reproduce).
Most freezer food charts (freezer shelf life) that I have seen are related to food quality and/or nutrition – not necessarily spoilage. Most recommendations generally are such that freezer foods should be consumed within a year. This is a good rule of thumb. Most foods frozen beyond one year will have lost much of their quality, and although they may not be ‘spoiled’, the nutritional value and taste may be quite less than appealing.
The following freezer food shelf life times are sourced from foodsafety.gov and other sources. Real world experience demonstrates that freezer foods will store much longer than this (we keep our freezers way below zero)! However I would think they’ve built in a margin of safety. It’s a guideline nonetheless.
Freezer Food Shelf Life Storage Time
|Meat (ground)||3 to 4 months|
|Meat (fresh, steaks, roasts)||6 to 12 months|
|Pork||6 to 8 months|
|Poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.)||12 months|
|Hot dogs||1 to 2 months|
|Lunch meat||1 to 2 months|
|Bacon and Sausage||1 to 2 months|
|Leftovers (cooked meat)||2 to 6 months|
|Butter||5 to 6 months|
|Cheese (hard)||6 to 12 months|
|Cheese (soft, shredded)||4 months|
|Eggs (removed from shell)||12 months|
|Vegetables (cooked)||1 month|
|Vegetables (uncooked)||12 months|
|Onions (uncooked)||3 to 6 months|
|Baked (cakes, bread, pies, biscuits)||6 months|
(data source: foodsafety.gov, Encyclopedia of Country Living)