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Food Storage Guidelines: How Long Does Food Last in the Freezer?

Illustration of freezer open with clock and various food items

Turns out food in your freezer doesn’t actually last forever. View our infographic for the shelf life of common freezer foods — plus tips to keep meat, fruit, vegetables and desserts fresher longer.

If you’re like a lot of people, your freezer gets a workout. Leftovers been in the fridge for a couple of days and you’re going out of town? No problem! Pop ’em in the freezer. Nobody came home to eat that big pot of spaghetti you made for dinner? Freezer-safe Tupperware to the rescue. And how about that Sunday you decided to cook your meals for the coming week and freeze them as part of your new diet plan?

Now here’s the bigger question. How often do you actually eat those frozen meals? For most people, the answer is a little murky. And then there’s the issue of the ice cream you don’t remember buying, the berries you hurried up and froze just seconds before they went bad, and let’s not even talk about the tilapia you told yourself you’d pop on the grill but never did…last summer.

So, if you’ve had a freezer reckoning and admitted to yourself that your food has been there since cosmopolitans were all the rage, what now? Does food in the freezer ever really go bad?

The answer, according to Foodsafety.gov, is no. Food that has been frozen and has remained frozen (no power outages, for example) should be safe to eat indefinitely.

But do you want to? Freezer burn will start to set in, and the food, while it technically won’t do you any harm, just won’t taste very good.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture tells us to do a smell test before eating any long-frozen foods, especially meat. If it’s stinky, toss it out. If it’s not smelly but it just doesn’t look great, you’re not going to want to build your meal around, say, an old New York strip, but you could instead cut it up and use it in a stew.

Here’s an infographic you can use as a guide. Remember, this isn’t about food safety; it’s about tastiness. Those of you keeping a slice of your wedding cake for an anniversary just might want to rethink that.

Freezer Storage

What shouldn’t you freeze?

  • Anything in a can (just take it out first)
  • Soft cheese
  • Mayo
  • Lettuce
  • Salad dressing in the bottle
  • Eggs in the shell
  • Apples
  • Carbonated drinks

That means the beer-cicle you’ve been dreaming about isn’t going to happen. But other than those items, freeze away!

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