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Excavating my deep freezer: how old is too old?

So, I decided to re-organize my deep freezer and one thing is clear: I really need to be cooking from my freezer more often. Apparently my strategy to this point has been stow it and forget it.

I threw away something I found that was dated 2008 (!) and a couple of things that looked obviously freezer burned, but i have a number of meats (bison and prok, primarily) from 2011 and 2012 that were professionally shrink-wrapped by the butcher when we put in a bulk meat order that look just fine. Are those still good? What about commercially packed fish or vegetables from the frozen foods section of the grocery store?

This chart (scroll all the way to the bottom) http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/f... would seem to imply that a year is the absolute longest one would keep anything in the freezer "for quality", though the food would be "safe" in the freezer indefinitely. Most meats are in the few months range according to the chart.

If you were me, would you keep or toss meat, fish, or poultry that had been in the deep freezer for a year? Two years? We've never had any significant power outages... If it was professionally wrapped? If I wrapped it using my Food Saver? What if I used just ordinary freezer bags with the air pressed out and there's no obvious freezer burn? Does it matter whether the food was raw or cooked at the time I froze it (several packs of raw chicken parts still on the styrofoam tray from the supermarket; and slivered chicken or pork frozen in marinade in a Food Saver bag; Ziplock or Food Saver bags of cooked, shredded chicken or ground beef...) .

I'm also very open to hearing to your freezer-management tips at this point because I obviously need them.

Thanks everyone!

~TDQ

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  1. I am grateful to Hurricane Sandy for the fact that my freezer contains nothing over 6 months old. And before that, Hurricane Irene ensured that I had nothing over about a year old. But before being thus helped in keeping my freezer organized, I would look at the Foodsaver site (since I try to vacuum pack most things using my Foodsaver). Foodsaver suggest 2-3 years for beef and poultry, 2 years for fish. http://www.foodsaver.com/savefood.aspx

    1. Annual power outtages pretty much sums up my freezer management SOP. When it seems full, I recommit to cooking at least 1 item per day from the freezer.

      As to whether I'd use the frozen goods, I absolutely would unless you see that the packaging was compromised and read damage occurred. Yes, you can expect decreased quality but if used in a soup or casserole preparation, it usually won't matter. I have noticed that ice cream forgotten in the back gets rock hard and icky but that doesn't happen hardly ever with my spouse in the house.

      1 Reply
      1. re: tcamp

        Lots of great suggestions here, but I like your practical suggestion of cooking 1 item per day from the freezer until it's all used up, thank you.

        Thank you!

        ~TDQ

      2. I am extra finicky, here are my limits: Three months for ground meat, six months for something I have frozen, a year for something professionally frozen. But for safety, I'm sure you could double these. Management? Keep a list magneted to the door with your use-by dates. Cross them off when used.

        7 Replies
        1. re: mwhitmore

          Dumb, but genuine question, but do you have any advice for maintaining discipline to add things to the inventory/listing? Just scribble them on? I find that that's where our system breaks down, when you've just come home from the grocery store and are in a hurry to put stuff away, etc...

          ~TDQ

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            I've made it a point not to put ANY meat in the freezer that isn't labeled. I remember my mom wasting so much because she wrapped meat and froze it, but couldn't figure out when it was put there--or even what it was.

            Everything now gets a bright pink post it note with the contents and date (including the year). And when I add something to the freezer, I make sure to rotate what is already in there. I've been doing this for the past 10 years and it's made a big difference in how much I buy and cook.

            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              I am quite organized -- I have a Foodsaver and Brother P-Touch labeler, and I have a clipboard with inventory form and pen-on-a-string next to the freezer in the basement. But where the system breaks down for me is that while I do most of the shopping and freezing, my wife and daughter also add, remove, or move things and they feel no compunction to comply with my system. So the freezer quickly becomes chaotic until I take the time to do an inventory or a complete clean out.

              1. re: drongo

                This!
                I am really organized as well, label everything, designated bins, etc. I am always finding hunks of unmarked meat chaotically shoved in the freezer??? I am not even sure where it comes from. When I ask what it might be....the answer is always "I saved it for dog food". Okay. But we have a CHIHUAHUA. His stomach is the size of a shot glass! Sure enough, I make his food, but no way is he going to eat all this "saved" meat. We also have 5 lb bags of half used (expensive)dry dog food in there too. Because he got "tired" of it.

                So, I guess the dog is really in charge of the freezer at my house :D

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  I put a 6-gallon spring water jug into my chest freezer. It decreased the space by a third and gives me one mother of an ice cube. I did it because I realized I was seldom getting to the hard-to-reach bottom, and because I lost a lot of valuable meat when unbeknownst to me, the plug loosened enough to cut the power. The loss of space hasn't been a problem, but might be if you cook for a larger family.

                2. re: mwhitmore

                  I keep a list on a small magnetic whiteboard.

                  Erase what you use; write down what you add.

                3. Hi, DQ:

                  I would draw the line at mastodon steaks, or the dodo you were saving to roast for a formal Christmas dinner.

                  Aloha,
                  Kaleo

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    P'shaw.

                    My Brontosaurus ribeye is still good. Last night was a feast!

                      1. re: Veggo

                        I still have some T-Rex gonads saved up for the next Bar Mitzvah.

                        I figure it would just be appropriate.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Could be better still for the next Bat Mitzvah.

                  2. We raise and butcher our own meat then freeze it in either freezer bags or butcher paper. The oldest few pieces of meat are from a pig we killed almost 2 years ago and it's fine. As long as it's wrapped well and the freezer is functioning properly, we've never had a problem.