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How long does frozen food last?

The quality of frozen food depends on how well it is wrapped

How well your frozen food keeps depends a lot on the quality of the wrapping or container.

I have a question I’ve been meaning to ask you,” a woman informed me one Sunday morning in church.

I took a sip of coffee and leaned closer to see if I had an answer. I figured her question might be about food because I know she reads my column.

“I have had some pumpkin bread in my freezer for about a year and I’m wondering if it is safe to eat,” she continued.

“Yes, it will be safe,” I responded. “The quality will depend on how well it was wrapped, though. How was it packaged?” I asked.

“It was wrapped in Saran wrap,” she commented. “It probably will be dry and won’t taste very good. I’m going to throw it.”

She answered her own question.

I think I mentioned using freezer bags in the future. Freezer bags are made of a heavier plastic that protects food better than plastic storage bags or plastic wrap. If I didn’t mention it, I know my column reader will see this.

I don’t want her to have to throw away her delicious quick bread next time.

Food can become forgotten in freezers and then we might decide that we don’t want to eat the food. Sometimes off-flavours or colours can develop if food is not packaged in airtight packaging.

Improperly packaged meat and poultry tend to be the foods most likely to develop dry, greyish spots characteristic of “freezer burn.” Although freezer-burned meat technically is safe to eat, you might not enjoy it.

If you buy extra meat, poultry or other foods, be aware that you can freeze it safely in the original packaging from the store. However, sometimes the store packaging is permeable to oxygen and the quality can decline quickly.

Vacuum-packaged frozen foods will maintain their quality longer. Vacuum-packaging equipment is available for consumers to use at home.

If you have freezer-burned meat, you don’t have to throw it away from a safety standpoint. Just cut away the “bad” parts. However, from a quality standpoint, your food may not taste very good.

Remember to always thaw meat in the refrigerator or microwave oven. Thawing meat on the counter or in the sink is not safe. Toxins can develop during improper thawing; even if you cook it thoroughly, you could become ill from improperly thawed meat.

What if you thawed some meat and your plans change? Can you refreeze it?

Technically, you can refreeze meat if it has been kept cold (40 F), but you might expect some quality loss. Be sure to package it properly to exclude air.

A good packaging material should have the following characteristics:

  • Moisture/vapour-proof or at least moisture resistant;
  • Made of food-grade material (designed to be used for food products);
  • Durable and leak-proof;
  • Doesn’t become brittle and crack at low temperatures;
  • Resistant to oil, grease or water;
  • Protect foods from off-flavours and odours;
  • Easy to fill and seal;
  • Easy to mark and store.

We have a free food freezing guide available online, with information about freezing just about anything. It also includes wrapping techniques for packaging food. Visit the NDSU website for more information and/or click “Download the PDF” if you prefer a printable form.

We also have some ideas for quick bread mixes that you can layer in glass jars to create holiday gifts.

“Give the Gift of Joy With a Quick Bread Mix” (PDF) features quick herb bread, snickerdoodle muffins, cherry chocolate scones and peanut butter bread. The recipes include printable gift tags with the recipe add-ins.

By the way, for best quality, use these dry mixes within six months. If you decide to make them and freeze them, use freezer bags or freezer containers. Here’s an easy scone recipe that will impress your holiday guests.

Cherry Chocolate Scones

  • 1-1/2 c. all-purpose white flour
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. dried cherries
  • 1-3/4 c. heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350°. Mix flour, sugar, salt, baking powder,chocolate chips and dried cherries in a bowl. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and add the heavy cream. Mix until all dry ingredients have been combined, then forminto a large circle and flatten. Cut into 10 pieces and bake for 16 to 20 minutes.

Makes 10 servings. Each servinghas 320 calories, 18 grams (g) fat,5 g protein, 36 g carbohydrate,1 g dietary fibre and 390 milligrams sodium.

Here’s an easy recipe to impress
your holiday guests. photo: NDSU

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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