From bread to leftovers: How long can you safely store food in the freezer

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We chatted with an expert to find out how long you can safely store food in the freezer. Source: Getty

Nothing beats a fully stocked freezer, especially when you’re short on time. Freezing is the best way to keep food fresh for longer, but how long can it stay frozen and still be safe to eat?

Food stored at -18°C is safe to eat indefinitely, but while it won’t make you sick, it probably won’t taste the best if it has been left for a long time.

So, to help you stay on top of your freezer and its contents, Starts at 60 chatted with Lorraine Haase, from Food Standards Australia New Zealand, to find out how long you can safely store certain food items in the freezer.

Meat and poultry

If you’re planning on freezing meat it’s best to get it into the freezer as soon as possible, Lorraine advises. Try wrapping the meat in plastic wrap or resealable freezer bags to avoid air contamination, she says, or, to be on the safe side, place the wrapped meat in an air-tight container. A great tip is to label the containers by date, so you can use the older meat first.

According to FoodSafety raw steaks are safe to freeze for as long as 12 months but, for optimum condition, don’t leave them in the freezer longer than four months – the same goes for roasts. Chops can be frozen for four to six months, bacon for a month and raw sausages for one to two months.

Whole chickens and turkeys can stay in the freezer up to one year, while chicken and turkey pieces should be consumed within nine months.

Leftover meals

You can freeze all types of cooked meals, as long as you do it properly, Lorraine advises. Any leftover food should be put in the freezer within minutes of being cooked — this is to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.

“It’s a good idea, if there’s a large amount, to put the leftovers in smaller packaging,” Lorraine adds.

According to FoodSafety leftovers containing cooked meat or poultry can be kept frozen for two to six months, pizza for one to two months, while chicken nuggets and burger patties should be consumed within three months. Soups and stews can be frozen for two to three months.

Frozen food

Most processed foods in packaging such as frozen mixed veggies, ice-cream and pastry will have a best-before date, Lorraine says.

Best-before dates are to do with food quality and taste, not food safety, which means if the items are on or past their best-before date this doesn’t mean that they are off it just means that they aren’t at their freshest.

“It’s probably more important to note that these foods should be kept as cold as possible between the supermarket and home,” she adds. “So a cold bag is a good idea when shopping for groceries.”

Bread

Bread will keep for three months in the freezer, but its quality can be affected by freezer burn.

When food is frozen, most of the water content of that food is transformed in to ice. Some of the water however is converted directly to water vapour and is released from the food all together — this process is called sublimation. This water loss causes food to become dehydrated over time, resulting in freezer burn — and what we’re left with is dry and tasteless bread.

“So it’s a good idea to make sure the packaging is as secure as possible while it’s in the freezer, and any temperature fluctuations are minimised,” Lorraine advises.

Try wrapping the bread tightly in plastic wrap and then resealable freezer bags before storing it in the freezer.

Keep in mind that there’s a major difference between ‘safe to eat’ from ‘good to eat’. If you defrost a meal that doesn’t look or smell right, consider tossing it.

What are your thoughts on this? How long do you keep food in the freezer?

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