Many people are surprised to learn that those expiration dates on the bottom of canned foods don’t really mean what they thought. In fact, my article about canned food expiration dates is one of the most viewed articles out of close to 700 on the entire site. Looking at those views made me realize something. People are also told that they can only freeze foods for a certain period of time before they must be thrown out.
In fact, FoodSafety.gov, from the U.S Department of Human Resources, provides a guide to Storage Times for the Refrigerator and Freezer. The times given for the refrigerator should be taken seriously. However, many people providing this information elsewhere, tend to miss what the site has to say about the storage times given for the freezer:
The guidelines for freezer storage are for quality only. Frozen foods constantly stored at 0°F or below can be kept indefinitely.
That’s right. Foods stored in the freezer remain safe almost indefinitely. And, even if they are not actually stored as low as 0° F or below, they will still last much longer than the suggested times. However, below zero, at -18° F is what most household freezers are set to as this is the basis of the expiration dates on many frozen foods. This is also the temperature used in restaurants and supermarkets, although supermarkets often fail to keep foods this cold consistently. Freezer temperature adjustment dials don’t usually provide actual temperatures so if you are not sure what temp your freezer is set to, consult your owner’s manual.
So, if you keep that pack of hot dogs in the freezer for longer than one to two months, the hot dogs will still be perfectly safe to eat. However, their quality may be compromised, meaning they may not taste as good or have the right texture. If freezer burn has set in, they may look bad, but they will still be perfectly safe. All the freezer times given on the site are for quality purposes only.
The better you wrap a food for freezer storage, the longer it’s quality can be maintained. No matter how well a food is stored, however, it cannot be kept at peak quality forever. But if you absolutely have nothing to eat, you can feel quite safe in eating that frost covered freezer burned pork chop or steak that you forgot about two years ago. It may not taste very good, but it won’t hurt you.
For longterm storage of frozen foods, the freezer in your refrigerator/freezer combo is not the best choice. For very longterm storage, the deep freezer is best, as I explained in my article about freezer burn. There, I also give some tips for wrapping meats for longer storage.
And remember that using a vacuum sealer like the Weston Professional Advantage Vacuum Sealer will help a lot.