The Shelf Life of Meat and Other Frozen Foods

How to Maintain Freshness When You Freeze Foods

Woman shopping frozen foods in grocery store
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Freezing food will prevent it from going bad, but what is the optimum shelf life for frozen meats, veggies, fruits and other common foods? To avoid freezer burn and a general decline in quality, aim to buy only as much food as you can use in a reasonable amount of time. What's reasonable? It depends on the food. Read below for more details.

The Shelf Life of Frozen Meat

Depending on the type of meat you're freezing, it can last anywhere from one month to one year.

See below for specifics. No matter the duration, you'll want to package your meat well. As a general rule, if you're planning to use it within a couple of months, simply place the meat in the freezer in its original packaging. If you are planning to freeze it for longer than a couple of months, you'll want to wrap it in another layer of aluminum foil or freezer paper or place the original contents in a sturdy zippered plastic bag. In either case, be sure to label the package as to its contents and the date it was frozen. 

Meat and SeafoodShelf LifeResources
Bacon1-2 monthsHow to Package Meat for Freezing
Chicken or turkey, whole1 year 
Chicken, pieces9 months 
Chops (pork, veal, lamb)4-12 months 
Fish3-8 months 
Ground meats3-4 months 
Ham1-2 months 
Hot dogs1-2 months 
Lunch Meat3-4 months 
Organ meats1-2 months 
Roast4-12 months 
Sausage, smoked1-2 months 
Sausage, uncooked1-2 months 
Shellfish3-12 months 
Steak6-12 months 
Wild game, uncooked8-12 months 
  ©Erin Huffstetler

Sources: USDA, National Center for Food Preservation, Food Marketing Institute

Freezing Milk and Other Dairy Products

Freezing milk isn't common but it's a perfectly safe way to preserve extra milk. Be sure to remove about a cup from a gallon container (or the equivalent from a smaller container) to allow for expansion as the liquid freezes.

Buttermilk can be frozen in ice cube trays, as can cracked and beaten eggs. Hard and semi-hard cheese freezes well, unlike soft cheeses and cream cheese. 

DairyShelf LifeResources
Butter6-9 monthsHow to Freeze Butter
Buttermilk3 monthsHow to Freeze Buttermilk
Cheese, hard6 monthsFreezing Cheese
Cheese, shredded2-3 months 
Egg substitute12 months 
Eggs, shelled12 monthsHow to Freeze Eggs
Ice cream2-4 months 
Milk3 monthsHow to Freeze Milk
  ©Erin Huffstetler

Sources: USDA, National Center for Food Preservation, Food Marketing Institute

Freezing Leftovers

Generous leftovers from a nice meal are a shame to waste and very easy to preserve in your freezer. As with meat, you'll want to package everything carefully and tightly in close-fitting containers or plastic bags. Remember to label everything with a contents description and a date. Great candidates for freezing include soups, stews, casseroles, cooked meats and fish, and cooked beans, rice, and pasta. Dishes that won't fare well in the freezer include dairy-rich foods such as cream sauces and custards, as well as salads of any kind.

LeftoversShelf LifeResources
Broth2-3 month 
Casseroles2-3 months 
Chicken nuggets/patties1-3 months 
Fish3 months 
Gravy2-3 month 
Meat or poultry2-6 months 
Pasta2 months 
Pizza1-2 months 
Soups and stews2-3 months 
  ©Erin Huffstetler

Sources: USDA, National Center for Food Preservation, Food Marketing Institute

Freezing Baked Goods and Nuts

Most baked goods freeze well, particularly if they are still fresh when popped into the freezer. A full (or nearly full) loaf of bread can be sliced before freezing, allowing you to remove just the number of slices desired. Put them right into the toaster. Wrapped well, unfrosted cakes stay fresh for up to four months. Cookies are also an excellent candidate for freezing. 

Baked Goods & NutsShelf LifeResources
Bread/rolls, unbaked1 month 
Bread, baked2-3 months 
Cake, baked (frosted)1 month 
Cake, baked (unfrosted)2-4 months 
Cookie dough3 months 
Cookies, baked6-12 months 
Pie, fruit (baked)6-8 months 
Pie, fruit (unbaked)2-4 months 
Pie, pumpkin1-2 months 
Rolls, yeast3-6 months 
Nuts, salted6-8 months 
Nuts, unsalted9-12 monthsHow to Store Nuts
  ©Erin Huffstetler

Sources: USDA, National Center for Food Preservation, Food Marketing Institute

Freezing Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh, uncooked fruits and vegetables are excellent candidates for freezing. If they're frozen quickly, they retain many of their original nutrients. Frozen vegetables slip easily into soups and stews or right into a roasting pan alongside meat. Add frozen fruits directly to smoothies, sauces and glazes. 

Fruits & VegetablesShelf LifeResources
Fruits & Vegetables8-12 monthsHow to Freeze Fruit
  ©Erin Huffstetler

Sources: USDA, National Center for Food Preservation, Food Marketing Institute

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