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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.

                    1. I'm cheap, I'm risky, I'm old, I'm still alive. Stuff 2+ years old get used regularly. If power goes out, I have small generator to keep things going. Stuff beyond 2 years is seldom used 'by itself" but in a stew a soup or something like that. And yes, there are some things in there that go back to the turn of the decade...a spot decision is usually made on that. Mostly thrown (especialy if it was some home-made sausage I forgot about or some British style bangers I bought on a whim and finally decided I didn't like)

                      1. Last week I cooked a turkey from February 2010. I knew it was in there, but did not realize it was that old. I boned it out (ala Jacques Pepin), stuffed/rolled/tied. In the process of boning it out I discovered freezer burn which I trimmed off. The resulting turkey was fine except the skin tasted 'off' so we didn't eat that.

                        Our freezer usually contains meat, sausages, stock, fruit juice, and foods that have been prepared and frozen for later meals (soup, stews, spaghetti sauce, etc.).

                        Every few months I make an updated inventory list. When something comes out it gets crossed off. We are less apt to write it down when something is added.

                        A few weeks ago I defrosted our upright freezer for the first time in years. The only thing that got tossed was an unlabeled package of walleye which I defrosted first and discovered they were freezer burned.

                        As to the safety issue, I don't think it would be too dangerous to eat the old meat. Thaw it out and check its quality and odor.

                        Recently when our freezer became increasingly full, started to take more out than put things in. We ate the turkey, a pork roast, pork chops, and lots of soup during that April cold stretch. I guess I did recently add a bunch of $1.79/lb St. Louis pork ribs because I just could not pass up a deal like that.

                        A FoodSaver does increase the length of time frozen foods can stay in the freezer with no ill effects and is definately worth using.

                        1. We used to get a lot of frozen meat when we were in a meat CSA (sadly they closed :-( ) On the organization end of things, I used 3 Sterilite tubs (the size that's a bit larger than a shoebox). In one, I kept ground beef, veal and pork. In the second, I kept steaks and chops, and in the third, we kept other cuts. It made it a lot easier to get to the stuff on the bottom and helped me keep it all somewhat organized.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Chris VR

                            I too use those Sterilite 'shoeboxes' in our upright freezer. I primarily use them for prepared food frozen in quart zip bags.

                            1. re: John E.

                              great idea -- both of you! I have a sliding bin at the bottom of my side-by-side, but the rest tends to become frozen-food Jenga.

                              1. re: John E.

                                I do the same with things like stock and Bolognese sauce. Freeze the bags flat and then put in the boxes.

                                I also stop my bargain-loving husband from buying every package of "brown meat" at the grocery :)

                            2. It depends on what it is, how it was wrapped and how tolerant you are of the flavor & texture of freezer burned food.

                              I buy beef, pork and shell fish in bulk and vacuum seal it which definitely helps extend the freezer life. I have held vac/sealed beef for over 2 years.

                              Fish does not freeze well and I have found that even fish I caught, vacuum sealed & froze is only good for around 6 months after which it takes on a strong off smell and flavor requiring trimming and soaking in milk.

                              I have a stand up freezer which I defrost and inventory annually. Mine has fixed shelves and empty beer cases fit extremely efficiently on the shelves. I have one case filled with Vac/sealed steak, another case with pork chops & shell fish & fish and another case filled with chicken & high end hamburger and another case filled with odds and ends like sausage. When ever I want something, I pull out the case, shut the door to keep the cold air in, remove the item from the case by date and then put the case back in the freezer.
                              Large Cambro storage containers would also work and add extra freezer burn protection.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Tom34

                                Have you tried freezing your fish in water? IME it freezes better and lasts longer that way. Put it into a freezer baggie, add very cold water to surround the fish, seal and freeze.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  I will be honest with you, now that my wife likes fish we try to eat it within a day or 2 of getting it. A couple exceptions would be catching more than we can eat in a week or when I get a large #1 grade piece of tuna loin for sushi. Even then, its usually gone w/in a month.

                                  I do believe you right on freezing in water. When I was a young fella I used to catch and sell over a thousand pounds of bluefish a week. Many of my customers were restaurants that would buy 500 pounds at a time and they submerged the fillets in water and then froze them in solid blocks of ice similar to how blocks of shrimp are packaged.

                              2. I have cooked meat labeled 2011 recently and it was fine. We buy our beef (once a year) and pork by the half (twice a year) so my meats are in the freezer for months if not a year. For example, by the time I take delivery of our next beef order, I will be just finishing packages labeled Oct 2012. I never had a problem with taste or freezer burn.

                                I have not had good luck with fish so I am of no help in that area.

                                I probably has no business giving freezer management tips but here goes, a few things that help me -

                                I force myself to go through periods where we eat out of the freezer. Like tonight, I will out steaks and grab ground beef, pork chops and a frozen whole chicken. Once these items are thawing, it makes it much easier for me to plan a menu.

                                I use ordinary freezer bags. Labels are a must.

                                I only fresh high value foods like meat. I do not have the organizational skills and discipline to freeze slices of left over bread, unusable portions of veggies (like 1 half a serving) hoping to become soup or whatever in hopes that I will find a use for them later. Later never comes in our house.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: cleobeach

                                  I really need to take your last paragraph to heart...

                                  ~TDQ

                                  1. re: cleobeach

                                    I do know that the faster an item freezer the better which means not freezing large packages, instead spread thing around when you first put them in the freezer.

                                    1. re: Tom34

                                      They also defrost faster that way!

                                      ~TDQ