How Long Meat Can Last in the Freezer

Frozen foods
BravissimoS/iStock

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 Life
Bacon1-2 months
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

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 freeze well, unlike soft cheeses and cream cheese. 

DairyShelf Life
Butter6-9 months
Buttermilk3 months
Cheese, hard6 months
Cheese, shredded2-3 months
Egg substitute12 months
Eggs shelled12 months
Ice cream2-4 months
Milk3 months

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 Life
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

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 Life
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 months

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 Life
Fruits & Vegetables8-12 months

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