Freezing food is one of the easiest forms of food preservation, and although food will safely keep in the freezer indefinitely that doesn't mean it will retain its quality forever—the flavor and texture will be vastly better if you use the food within the optimal freezing timeframe. Also, some foods will last longer in the freezer than others and may require certain preparation (chopped, blanched, single layer freeze, etc.) before freezing for best results.
All of these freezing times assume that you packaged your food properly, well-wrapped in plastic or aluminum foil or placed in freezer containers or bags. This is crucial to achieving optimal freshness when defrosted and to avoid freezer burn, which occurs when air reaches the food and causes dehydration and oxidation.
Vegetables will last in the freezer from three months to a year depending on what they are. Some vegetables, especially leafy greens, need to be blanched before they are frozen. Also, not all mushrooms freeze well raw. A few of the drier ones such as hen of the woods (a.k.a. maitake) do, but fungi with a higher moisture content are better sauteed before freezing. In addition, you may want to puree vegetables with high water content (such as tomatoes) before freezing, especially if you plan on using them in that form like in a sauce.
|commercially frozen vegetables||1 year stored in original package|
|bell and sweet peppers, chile peppers||3 to 4 months|
|green or wax beans||1 year|
|leafy greens||8 months|
|mushrooms (cooked)||1 year|
|mushrooms (raw)||8 months|
|tomatoes||3 to 4 months|
|winter squash and pumpkin (cooked)||
|zucchini and summer squash||
Fruit contains water, so when it is frozen and then thawed, its texture will change—it will be softer and often mushy. In addition, when the fruit warms up some of the juice will leak out, leaving fruit that is diminished in flavor. So it is best to plan on using fruit that has been previously frozen in cooked dishes, sauces, jams, and pie fillings. Frozen fruits are also ideal for smoothies, sorbets, and ice creams. If you are planning on serving as is, keep a bit of the ice as this will provide a firmer texture.
Fruit can maintain its quality from four months to a year in the freezer. If you plan on using the fruit in a blended form, it is best to puree it before freezing—this not only makes it easier to incorporate in the recipe but also takes up less space in the freezer.
|commercially frozen||1 year|
|fruit juices||1 year|
No matter how quickly you plan to consume nuts, it is best to store them in the freezer, no matter the type. Nuts have a high oil content and therefore can quickly turn rancid. If wrapped in plastic and stored in a zip-top freezer bag, nuts will last two years in the freezer.
Most of us come home from the supermarket and immediately put the meat we bought in the freezer. As long as it is packaged securely, it should last between two months and a year, depending on the type. (If it is not wrapped well, it is primed for freezer burn.) For very fatty meats, you may want to trim some of the excess fat before freezing as it can increase the risk of the meat turning rancid when frozen. And never stuff poultry or beef before freezing—bacteria can grow before it is fully frozen.
|bacon and pancetta||3 months|
|ground meats including hamburger||4 months|
|organ meats (liver, kidneys, etc.)||4 months|
Whether a whole bird or a bird cut into parts, or boneless breasts, making sure they're packaged well is the key to fresh tasting poultry. Poultry can last from four months up to one year depending on its form (that Thanksgiving turkey can be bought well in advance!).
Two important things to keep in mind when freezing chicken are to handle it correctly when raw due to the risk of salmonella poisoning, and once you defrost chicken not to freeze again as doing so can increase bacterial growth.
|whole bird||1 year|
|raw pieces (with and without bones)||9 months|
|cooked whole or pieces||4 months|
Most of the seafood we buy has been previously frozen unless you are lucky enough to live quite close to the coast or catch it yourself. Unlike chicken, fish is safe to refreeze—just be sure it is packaged very well—so if not planning to use in a day or two from purchasing, place it in the freezer. Fish and shellfish will last from two to six months when frozen.
|fatty fish (bluefish, mackerel, salmon)||3 month|
|lean or white fish (cod, flounder, haddock, sole)||6 months|
|crab, cooked||2 months|
|crab, raw/live||3 months|
|crayfish, raw||4 months|
|lobster, cooked||2 months|
|lobster, raw/live||3 months|
|shellfish, cooked||3 months|
|squid, octopus, calamari, raw||4 months|
It is always handy to have homemade soup stock in the freezer when you plan on making soup or need a bit for a recipe. So next time you have leftover or time to make a batch, place in airtight plastic containers and store in the freezer. Vegetable, meat and poultry stock will last six months while a fish stock remains good for four months.
Beans and Grains
You may be used to buying canned beans, but dried beans are much more economical. If you don't have the time or the foresight to cook them for dinners, however, consider making them ahead of time and freezing for up to six months. This also works well for rice and other grains which will last four months in the freezer. You can also go as far as soaking the beans and then freezing, which will last four months.
Many kinds of dairy can be frozen, but ice cream and butter are the only types that emerge from the freezer with their textures intact. Butter left in its original packaging and then wrapped in plastic can survive nine months in the freezer while ice cream and sorbets will last for two months.
Breads, Baked Goods, and Breakfast Treats
Whether homemade or store-bought, bread, baked goods, and breakfast foods can easily be frozen to be enjoyed later on. Just be sure to cool completely before packaging well.
|muffins and quick breads||2 months|
|pancakes and waffles||1 month|
|cookie dough||6 months|
Pesto and Oils
Homemade pesto is the ideal recipe to use up the basil in your garden at the end of the season. But if you have more than you can handle, this herb-based pasta sauce is perfect for freezing. It is recommended that you wait to add the cheese until ready to use to extend its shelf life (eight months), but you can freeze pesto with cheese, which will stay fresh for three months in the freezer. Herb-flavored oils can also be frozen for later use and will last for eight months.
Some people can eat leftovers all week long until they're gone. If you are not one of them, wrap leftovers well and put in the freezer to enjoy at a later date. Casseroles and lasagna will last four months, while chili, soups, stews, and chowders are good for six months when frozen.