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How long is frozen food safe in the freezer?

Couple wonders if 5-year old food is safe
Posted at 2:30 PM, Apr 05, 2019

How long can frozen food last in your freezer?

At the Wittekind house, the frozen food can be a lot older than two years. Les Wittekind found a bag of frozen Birds Eye chicken and vegetables with a December, 2015 "use by" date, making it well over three years old.

The frozen salmon is dated 2014, making it five years old, and a tube of ground turkey is almost ready to graduate elementary school.

"24 September of 2009," he said, "that's almost 10 years old."

Wittekind and his wife Mary Ellen contacted us after seeing our report about Chris Wilson, who who bought a 2-year-old frozen pizza at a dollar store

"If it said October of 2018, I probably would have eaten it," Wittekind said. "But 2017? That's out of hand."

But Mary Ellen Wittekind says it was probably fine. "Three or four years old? We've never had a problem using it."

This frugal retiree says it's easy to buy something at the grocery store, stick it in the freezer, and not realize for a couple of years it's been back there. She says she just makes sure the item is not exposed to air, where you then start to see physical degradation.

"If a bag has a hole in it, then you have a problem," she said.

How long does food last?

So we checked with the USDA, which sets food safety standards. It sets the following guidelines for frozen food:

  • Hamburger: 4 months.
  • Fish: 6 months.
  • Pie: 8 months.
  • Chicken breasts: 9 months.
  • Whole turkey or steak: 12 months.

But in a deep freezer, the USDA says food can last decades, saying, "food stored at 0 degrees should last indefinitely. Only quality suffers with long term storage."

Wittekind says she's never had a problem. "It seems to be OK," she said.

One caution: The USDA says food frozen for the long term should be kept in a deep freezer at zero degrees, not in your kitchen freezer where the door opens 5 times a day, and the temperature may only be 25 degrees.

So stay safe and don't waste your money.


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