How Long Can You Store Frozen Food

This is part of a series on How To Save Money On Your Grocery Bill

Freezing Foods Do’s & Don’ts

Do you know the best temperature for keeping frozen food and how to freeze foods?

Revised July 30, 2020 – Originally published May 28, 2020 Deborah Esplin

Milk in a cup.

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Freezer Temperature

The government of Canada recommends that you keep your freezer at -18 C or colder. You can put a small thermometer in your freezer to monitor the temperature. I have a couple of thermometers that I use in my fridge and freezer. This model of a thermometer, from Rubbermaid, is convenient, sturdy, not expensive, and readily available from Amazon.

Your food safety and quality will be best when your freezer is consistently as cold as it needs to be. By having a thermometer in your freezer, you can make sure that you are keeping the freezer cold enough.  If there is a power failure, you can use the thermometer to monitor if your freezer is getting too warm.

The thermometer should be placed in the warmest part of the freezer. With a chest freezer, this would normally be near the top. With an upright freezer, it may vary depending on the model of the freezer. Often it is close to the door but whether the top or bottom of the freezer is colder depends on the model. By experimenting with the thermometer position, you can figure the warmest part of your freezer and then keep it there.

When you freeze food, you stop bacteria growth and you preserve quality. But, freezing does not kill most bacteria, so if the food was unsafe or had a lot of bacteria in it, it will leave the freezer with the same bacteria. Those bacteria will start to grow as the food warms up. Freeze foods when they are fresh and safe.

Most foods freeze well, and their quality is maintained in the freezer. However, over time the quality does decrease. That is why there are recommended storage times for how long various foods should stay in the freezer. The rate of quality decrease does partially depend on the type of freezer. Upright freezers are known to have freezer burn issues faster than chest freezers. Take these storage recommendations from the government as a minimum time and then see what results you get in your own freezer. Possibly you can exceed these recommendations.

In my chest freezer, food stays of good quality for longer than these recommendations from the government. As long as your freezer stays at -18 C or colder, the food will remain as safe as it was when it was frozen.

These are quality recommendations, not food safety recommendations. In the table below are the recommended storage times for maximum quality from the government of Canada. You may be surprised.

Government of Canada Recommended Freezer Storage Times

Weeks    Food
4             Bacon-raw & cooked

6             Milk

8             Yogurt, Cheese semi-soft

12           Tomatoes,  Fatty fish, e.g. Salmon,  Hot Dogs-open or not,  Lunchmeat- open or not, Sausage-raw or cooked, Semi-firm cheese, Processed cheeses, Butter unsalted,  Veal, Ham, Ground  meat,  Eggs, Deli meats

16           Cooked dishes, Meals, Shellfish,  Chicken pieces-raw,  Cooked chicken, Lean fish, Cooked fish

26           Pork

36           Lamb

52           Egg substitutes, Butter salted, Cheese hard,  Vegetables, Beef, Whole chicken,  Hummus

After looking at the list above you may wonder? 

Why would unsalted butter have a much shorter recommended storage time than salted butter? Salt is a preservative, so the salt in the butter helps retard mold growth and rancidity.

Why do some meats have longer or shorter recommended storage times? It depends on the amount of fat in the meat, the packaging, and the type of meat. Ground meat always has a shorter storage time than whole cuts because it is more processed and there is more risk of bacteria being introduced into the meat during the grinding process.

Why does bacon have such a short storage recommendation? Salted meats do not store well in the freezer for long because the salt causes taste changes.

Reminders on how to prepare food for freezing

Because the storage time frames vary so much between different types of food, that is another reason why it is important to date and identify your food. As well, there storage time frames assume that you have wrapped your food very or put it into air-tight containers. If air can get at the food, it will cause freezer burn and your storage time frames could be much shorter than this.

How Long Can You Store Frozen FoodTips Summary

    1. Keep your freezer at -18 C or colder.
    2. Invest in a freezer thermometer.
    3. Generally, follow the recommended storage times, but monitor the quality of what you pull out of the freezer if it has been in there longer than recommended.
    4. As long as your freezer stays cold enough, these storage times relate to food quality, not food safety.
    5. Consult the list of foods with their recommended storage time.
    6. Wrap your food very well or use air-tight containers to preserve quality and prevent freezer burn.

Check out my companion video on this topic:

Here is a link to the next video in the series: Tips and Do’s And Don’ts On Thawing Your Food.

Check out posts on other topics here: Blog Table of Contents.

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