How Long Meat Can Last in the Freezer

Frozen foods
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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 (rabbit, pork, ham), 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 Seafood Shelf Life
Bacon 1-2 months
Chicken or turkey, whole 1 year
Chicken, pieces 9 months
Chops (pork, veal, lamb) 4-12 months
Fish 3-8 months
Ground meats 3-4 months
Ham 1-2 months
Hot dogs 1-2 months
Lunch Meat 3-4 months
Organ meats 1-2 months
Roast 4-12 months
Sausage, smoked 1-2 months
Sausage, uncooked 1-2 months
Shellfish 3-12 months
Steak 6-12 months
Wild game, uncooked 8-12 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. 

Dairy Shelf Life
Butter 6-9 months
Buttermilk 3 months
Cheese, hard 6 months
Cheese, shredded 2-3 months
Egg substitute 12 months
Eggs shelled 12 months
Ice cream 2-4 months
Milk 3 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.

Leftovers Shelf Life
Broth 2-3 month
Casseroles 2-3 months
Chicken nuggets/patties 1-3 months
Fish 3 months
Gravy 2-3 month
Meat or poultry 2-6 months
Pasta 2 months
Pizza 1-2 months
Soups and stews 2-3 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 & Nuts Shelf Life
Bread/rolls, unbaked 1 month
Bread, baked 2-3 months
Cake, baked (frosted) 1 month
Cake, baked (unfrosted) 2-4 months
Cookie dough 3 months
Cookies, baked 6-12 months
Pie, fruit (baked) 6-8 months
Pie, fruit (unbaked) 2-4 months
Pie, pumpkin 1-2 months
Rolls, yeast 3-6 months
Nuts, salted 6-8 months
Nuts, unsalted 9-12 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 & Vegetables Shelf Life
Fruits & Vegetables 8-12 months

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