With food prices on the rise, many people adopting frugal living principles are trying to stretch their grocery dollars by purchasing meats and vegetables when they go on sale, and then storing them in their freezer. There is no doubt about it...a good energy-efficient upright or chest freezer is probably the most frugal appliance once can have in their home. I have a regular freezer built into my refrigerator, but a chest freezer is definitely going to be my next appliance purchase. I'm just waiting for a great sale.
After awhile, there is always one question that comes up when people are freezing meats and casseroles for later use...how long can I freeze this stuff and still eat it? I'll never forget a disturbing episode at my grandmother's house. She had become quite ill and had to move into a nursing home, so it was up to our family to clean out her apartment and help her make the transition. As we cleaned out her freezer we discovered packages of meat which, according to the dates on the packages, had been stored for anywhere from two to five YEARS. Now, I knew my grandmother was something of a pack rat. She reused things not just once, but two or three times. Still, a five year old roast was something of a shock. There it was, tucked away in the top half of her refrigerator, as if it had been cryogenically preserved until it could be reanimated by scientists in the year 2525.
Shockingly, the USDA says food stored at zero degrees Fahrenheit remains safe to eat indefinitely. Only the quality of the food is reduced with long term freezing, not the safety. So, even though Grandma's five year old roast wouldn't send anyone to the hospital with a raging case of food poisoning, it probably wouldn't win any awards in the Pillsbury Bake-Off, either.
Even the dreaded "freezer burn" doesn't mean that food isn't safe to eat. It just means that part of it is dried out. The USDA says you can just cut the freezer burnt portion of the food and discard it, and the rest is fine to consume.
There are a few keys to remember when freezing your vittles. First, your freezer must be cold enough. That means zero degrees Fahrenheit. You must freeze your food as soon as you bring it home, and it must be frozen quickly. It is best to re-wrap your meat, rather than storing it in the supermarket packaging. I wrap our meats in aluminum foil first, and then place it inside of a plastic freezer bag, taking care to squeeze out all of the excess air before zipping it closed.
The USDA has plenty of other freezing tips, too. They also have a handy-dandy freezer storage chart. The chart indicates the length of time food can be frozen and still retain its quality, not the length of time until it goes "bad". As long as it is wrapped and frozen properly at zero degrees, the stuff in your freezer isn't going to send you to the emergency room.
Freezer Storage Chart (0 °F)
Note: Freezer storage is for quality only. Frozen foods remain safe indefinitely.
|Bacon and Sausage||1 to 2|
|Casseroles||2 to 3|
|Egg whites or egg substitutes||12|
|Frozen Dinners and Entrees||3 to 4|
|Gravy, meat or poultry||2 to 3|
|Ham, Hotdogs and Lunchmeats||1 to 2|
|Meat, uncooked roasts||4 to 12|
|Meat, uncooked steaks or chops||4 to 12|
|Meat, uncooked ground||3 to 4|
|Meat, cooked||2 to 3|
|Poultry, uncooked whole||12|
|Poultry, uncooked parts||9|
|Poultry, uncooked giblets||3 to 4|
|Soups and Stews||2 to 3|
|Wild game, uncooked||8 to 12|
Your freezer really is a frugal food storage option when you can get the food items on sale, so freeze away for a rainy day.
I still don't recommend eating five year old beef roast, however.