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Knowledge Base » Food Hygiene » How Long Can You Keep Food in the Freezer?

How Long Can You Keep Food in the Freezer?

Last updated on 17th April 2023

If food is not stored correctly, it can result in food poisoning. According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), approximately 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness occur every year in the UK, which is up from the 2009 estimate of approximately one million.

Food has been frozen for centuries, as it is one of the most straightforward preservation methods. It uses cold temperatures to inhibit the growth of microorganisms, such as bacteria, in our food. This lowers the risk of food poisoning and extends the shelf life of our food, which reduces food wastage.

It is important to note that freezing does not kill bacteria. It just stops them from growing and producing toxins. As soon as food starts to defrost, the bacteria will become active again (Food Standards Agency). Therefore, whilst freezing allows us to enjoy our foods safely and for longer, it is dependent on freezing (and defrosting/cooking) food correctly. You can access our article on how to defrost food safely.

Freezer star ratings

All freezers have a star rating, which indicates the temperature at which they operate. There are four different star ratings.

Temperature Storage times
* One star -6°C Up to one week.
** Two stars -12°C Up to one month.
*** Three stars -18°C Up to three months.
**** Four stars Below -18°C Three months and longer.

To ensure you freeze food correctly and for the correct storage times, always check your freezer’s star rating. You should also check the manufacturer’s instructions for freezing on the packaging of purchased products.

The Food Standards Agency recommends that freezers are kept at -18°C or colder.

Woman putting food in freezer

What foods can be frozen?

The majority of food can be frozen. However, there are some exceptions, e.g. mayonnaise will curdle and salad leaves can wilt and break. Whilst it would not be unsafe to keep these types of foods in the freezer, it does affect their quality.

In theory, food can be kept safely in the freezer for years, as microorganisms will remain dormant if the food stays frozen. However, the longer food is in the freezer, its taste, texture, and appearance will change, and the quality will suffer.

Food can also suffer from freezer burn (covered in ice crystals) if it isn’t covered, which will make it unappetising and, in some cases, inedible. How long it takes for the reduction in quality will vary depending on the type of food.

The type of food that you can freeze and how long you can store it in your freezer will depend on:

  • The type of freezer and its star rating.
  • The kind of food to be frozen.
  • How the food will be prepared and processed, e.g. cooked.
  • The packaging instructions.

To ensure you correctly freeze your food, you should check:

  • The star rating for your freezer.
  • The freezer is operating at the correct temperature.
  • The instructions on the packaging of purchased food.
  • The Food Standards Agency website for guidance on freezing relevant to your situation.

How long does butter last in the freezer?

Butter is an easy food to freeze. How long it will last in the freezer will depend on whether your butter is salted or unsalted and the fat content. Butter with a high fat content can be stored for longer in the freezer, and its texture/appearance will not be affected significantly. You can freeze unsalted and spreadable butter in the freezer for up to 6 months and salted butter for up to a year.

To ensure good quality butter from the freezer, follow these tips:

  • Cut into smaller pieces – Where possible, cut your butter into smaller pieces, as it will make it easier to freeze.
  • Freeze butter in the correct packaging – Some types of packaging (e.g. wax wrap) can negatively affect the shelf life and quality of the butter. Use the original packaging, parchment, foil, cling film or freezer bags.
  • Wrap it properly – Butter is susceptible to freezer burn, so ensure it is sufficiently covered.
  • Freeze as soon as possible – Butter has a use-by date. Therefore, freeze it before this date and, ideally, soon after purchase.
  • Do not store with odorous foods – Butter can easily absorb odours. If you do not want your butter tasting like garlic or onion, put it on a separate shelf to strong-smelling foods.
Butter to put in the freezer

How long does chocolate last in the freezer?

Chocolate has a best before date, which means that although the quality may change after that date, it is not unsafe to eat. As most chocolate has a high sugar content, this helps to preserve it. Therefore, it has a relatively long shelf life anyway, but you can freeze it if you need to. This is especially useful if you have surplus chocolate from special occasions.

Chocolate will last indefinitely in the freezer. However, to ensure the quality does not deteriorate too much, you want to use dark chocolate within 2 years and milk within a year. Store your chocolate in an airtight freezer-proof container. The texture may change slightly after defrosting, but you can always use your chocolate in baking. You can also freeze melted chocolate, but ensure it is chilled sufficiently before freezing.

Chocolate bar to freeze

How long does bread last in the freezer?

Bread and associated products, such as pastries and cakes, can be kept in the freezer for up to 3 months. After this, the quality will deteriorate. However, you may be able to store some types of bread for up to 6 months. If you intend to use the bread for sandwiches and toast, it is best to use it as quickly as possible. Ensure that you remove any ice when defrosting, otherwise you will end up with soggy bread.

When freezing pre-packed bread, you should ensure it is securely wrapped in its original packaging or transfer it to an airtight freeze-proof container. For bread baked in-store, remove it from the paper/film packaging it was sold in and place it in a freezer-safe container, bag, or wrap. It will prevent freezer burn, which can make your bread unappetising.

If you want to freeze bread that you have baked, ensure it has cooled sufficiently before freezing. Otherwise, the moisture could make it soggy and encourage mould growth.

Bread in a freezer

How long does rice last in the freezer?

It will depend on whether you are freezing uncooked or cooked rice, and you can freeze both. The type of rice will also affect how long it will last, e.g. brown rice will not last as long as white rice.

  • Uncooked rice
    – Uncooked rice is classed as dry goods and will last a long time outside of the freezer.
    – It can also be frozen to extend its shelf life, which will also help destroy any pests, e.g. insects.
    – Ensure the rice is completely dry before freezing to prevent mould growth and freezer burn.
    – Use freezer bags or a freezer-safe container to store the rice in whilst freezing.
    – It can be stored in the freezer indefinitely.
  • Cooked rice
    – Chill down rice quickly after cooking (within an hour) to reduce the risk of Bacillus cereus* poisoning. You can spread it on a tray to reduce the cooling time.
    – Once cooled down, portion into freezer bags or airtight containers and freeze as soon as possible. Do not leave it in the refrigerator for more than a day before freezing.
    – Use your cooked frozen rice within 1 month of freezing.

* Bacillus cereus can be present in all types of rice. It is a bacterium that can grow from heat-resistant spores and produce toxins and can result in severe food poisoning. Therefore, the rice must be stored, thawed, and prepared correctly.

Cooked white rice

How long does milk last in the freezer?

Most types of milk (plant and dairy) will last 2-3 months in the freezer, but it is best to use it within a month if possible.

When you freeze milk, be prepared for changes in texture and appearance. Freezing and then defrosting milk causes it to separate, resulting in colour changes and a grainy texture. It is more likely to happen with milk with a higher fat content, e.g. whole milk.

Always freeze milk before its use-by date and defrost (in the refrigerator) and shake before use. Although defrosted milk is safe to drink, you may want to consider using it in baking, cooking and smoothies, especially plant-based milk.

Be careful on the container you use to freeze milk, as it can expand during freezing, which could cause it to break. You can use an airtight freezer bag or container, but make sure you leave enough space in the container for the milk to expand. Never freeze milk in glass, tin cans or cartons.

Milk in glass

How long does ice cream last in the freezer?

Like most dairy products, ice cream should not be left too long in the freezer as it can adversely affect the quality. It can become icy and affect the flavour. The instructions on the packaging will usually tell you how long your ice cream can be kept in the freezer. It should usually last 2-3 months, but this will depend on whether the milk is dairy or plant based.

When freezing ice cream, make sure the container is sealed and do not store it with odorous foods that can taint it, such as onions.

Ice cream from the freezer

How long does lobster last in the freezer?

If you are cooking live lobster and then decide to freeze it, you need to ensure that it has not been dead for more than 2 hours. You need to freeze it as soon as possible. The reason for this is that bacteria can quickly grow if it is left at room temperature.

You should not freeze live lobsters indefinitely, but you can put them in the freezer just before preparation. Always prepare them properly before freezing and leave them whole where possible, as this will ensure the best quality. Maine Lobster has further information on the preparation and freezing of lobsters. They suggest they can last around 9-12 months in the freezer.

Lobster just being taken from freezer

How long do oysters last in the freezer?

All seafood carries a high risk of food poisoning. Oysters should be frozen alive to reduce the risk, and you should always check them thoroughly before freezing, e.g. the oyster remains tightly closed when tapped. Any that are open are dead and should not be frozen. Always discard dead oysters as they can cause illness.

The oyster shells should be washed, dried and packed in an airtight freezer bag that has had any excess air removed.

It is always best to enjoy oysters fresh where possible, as freezing will affect the texture, colour and flavour. Never eat oysters raw after freezing due to the food poisoning risk. Frozen oysters must always be used in cooking and can last up to 6 months in the freezer.

Oysters being frozen

How long does fish last in the freezer?

It will depend on the species of fish/seafood you want to freeze and whether it is processed, e.g. fish steaks or smoked.

Here are some approximate storage times for freezing different types of fish:

  • Smoked salmon – 3-6 months.
  • Oily fish, e.g. salmon and mackerel – 2-3 months.
  • Cod and haddock – 6-9 months.
  • Prawns – 3-6 months.

Fish with a lower fat content, e.g. shellfish and cod, will last longer in the freezer as they do not oxidise as readily as those with a higher fat content, e.g. salmon.

You can tell whether your fish is ok to eat after defrosting by the smell. If it does not smell right, do not risk it.

Frozen fish stand

How long does meat mince last in the freezer?

All types of meat mince (lamb, beef, pork, etc.), including meat-free mince, should be used within 2-3 months of freezing. This applies to raw or cooked mince. If there are instructions for freezing on the packaging, these should always be followed.

Where possible, try to spread the mince out evenly before popping it into an airtight container in the freezer. This will ensure even freezing and defrosting. Always defrost the mince in a refrigerator overnight and cook as soon as possible.

Mince to put in freezer

How long does chicken last in the freezer?

Whole chickens can last up to a year in the freezer and smaller pieces up to 9 months. However, it is probably not best to leave it that long, as the quality will deteriorate. It is best to use your frozen chicken within 6 months of freezing where possible.

If you purchase chicken frozen, e.g. thighs, whole, breasts and joints, it is important to follow the packaging instructions and freeze as soon as possible. If you intend to freeze fresh chicken, try to freeze it soon after purchase and always before the use-by date.

Always ensure your chicken is wrapped well before freezing and fully defrost in the refrigerator overnight before cooking. This goes for any type of meat you freeze and thaw.

Uncooked chicken to be put in freezer

How long does beef last in the freezer

To ensure your beef retains its quality, you should use:

  • Large joints and steaks – Within 12 months.
  • Small cuts, e.g. ribs, and mince – Within 4 months.
  • Cooked beef – Within 2-3 months.

Before putting your beef in the freezer, wrap it in foil or cling film and place it into an airtight container or freezer bag.

Beef in the freezer

How long does turkey last in the freezer?

If you have a large freezer, whole raw turkeys (like chickens) can last up to 12 months in the freezer and smaller portions up to 9 months. If the turkey is purchased frozen, always follow the instructions on the packaging.

If you want to freeze cooked turkey, it will not last as long in the freezer, and you should try and use it within 2-3 months. Turkey is dry, so bear in mind that freezing your cooked turkey and leftovers may increase the dryness. It may be worth using any leftover turkey in other dishes, such as casseroles, curries, and soups.

Remember, chill your cooked turkey within 1-2 hours before freezing and always defrost fully in a refrigerator.

Turkey to freeze

How long do sausages last in the freezer?

Raw meat sausages will last up to 2 months in the freezer before the quality starts to reduce. Meat-free sausages will last slightly longer, but you should use them within 3 months of freezing.

You can put an unopened packet of sausages in the freezer, but once thawed, you will need to cook them as soon as possible. If you have taken some out of the original packaging and wish to freeze the rest, put them in a freezer-safe airtight container or bag.

Sausages being cooked

How long does bacon last in the freezer?

Raw bacon will last in the freezer for up to 1-2 months. Beyond this, the quality will deteriorate, and the texture and flavour will not be the same.

Fat does not freeze well and can make the bacon taste rancid if there is too much left on. It is best to trim off any excess fat before you pop your bacon in the freezer.

If you are freezing an opened packet of bacon, you should separate the rashers. You can do this by placing wax paper between each rasher before transferring them to an airtight container or bag.

Raw bacon with lots of fat

How long does pork last in the freezer?

How long pork will last in the freezer will depend on the cut, whether it has been processed, and if it has been incorporated into another dish, for example:

  • Loins, joints, chops, steaks, and ribs – 4-6 months.
  • Ground pork and offal, e.g. liver – 3-4 months.
  • Home-cooked roast, stews, and casseroles – 2-3 months.

It is still safe to eat pork after these times, but it will likely be dry and of poor quality. Always store in an airtight container or bag to prevent deterioration and freezer burn.

Meat being kept in the freezer

How long does steak last in the freezer?

You can keep raw steak up to 12 months in the freezer, but it is best to use it within 6 months. If your steak is cooked, it is recommended to use it within 3 months. Always freeze your steak before the use-by date and wrap it properly to prevent deterioration.

Freezing steak can actually make it taste better, as it retains more moisture when frozen, giving you a nice juicy steak.

Steak from the freezer

How long does lamb last in the freezer?

Like all types of meat, it will depend on the cut and whether it has been processed or cooked. You can freeze larger joints of lamb for up to 12 months. Whereas smaller pieces, such as chops, should be ideally used within 4 months of freezing. Cooked lamb will not last as long and should be used within 2-3 months.

Always ensure your meat is properly wrapped to prevent freezer burn. You may want to add an extra layer to preserve your lamb for as long as possible.

Lamb in the freezer

How long does vacuum-sealed meat last in the freezer?

Vacuum sealing will increase the shelf life of the meat anyway, as it limits the growth of microorganisms. It is also easy to freeze, as it can go straight into the freezer if the pack is unopened and will last up to 2 years if it was fresh when frozen. For quality, try to use it within a year.

If you have opened the vacuum-sealed meat, you should treat it like any other meat when freezing.

Keeping food sealed in the freezer

How long does tuna salad last in the freezer?

It depends on the contents of the tuna salad, but it will usually last 1-2 months in the freezer. Although you can freeze tuna salad with mayonnaise or dairy products, it is not recommended, as it does not freeze well and will separate. Tuna salad with vinaigrette or other non-dairy dressing will freeze better.

You can freeze a whole tuna salad in a freezer-safe airtight container or bag and also split it into smaller portions for freezing. It is easy to defrost your salad by keeping it in the refrigerator overnight.

Where possible, enjoy your salad fresh, as the freezing process can change the texture and taste.

Tuna salad to go in the freezer

How long do peppers last in the freezer?

If you find you have too many leftover peppers, you can freeze them for up to 6 months. They will not be as firm and crisp after defrosting, but they can be used in many different recipes.

To freeze peppers properly:

  • Check them for any damage and mould, and discard if found.
  • Wash before freezing and dry thoroughly (to prevent freezer burn).
  • Cut, remove any seeds, and slice them (the size and type of cut will depend on what you want to use them for).
  • Spread them out on a baking tray and flash freeze if possible.
  • If you cannot flash freeze them, dry them again with a paper towel and leave them to dry out further for a few hours.
  • Transfer to freezer bags or freezer-safe airtight containers.

You can also freeze whole peppers but take the seeds out beforehand.

Peppers to be frozen later

How long does cooked chicken last in the freezer?

Most cooked meats, including chicken, will last up to 6 months in the freezer. However, it is best to use it within 2-3 months where possible. You can purchase many different types of pre-prepared frozen meals that contain cooked chicken. Therefore, it is perfectly safe to do it yourself if you freeze it properly.

After cooking the chicken, you want to chill and freeze it as quickly as possible. Freeze your cooked chicken within 2 hours.

Cooked chicken to freeze

How long does cooked bacon last in the freezer?

Cooked bacon will last in the freezer for up to 3 months, but it is important to trim off any additional fat before freezing, as it can make it rancid and affect the taste.

After cooking, remove excess fat and oil from the bacon. Chill quickly (within 1-2 hours of cooking). Cut into smaller pieces, if possible, as it will make it easier to defrost. Place the cooked bacon in an airtight container, freezer bag, foil, or cling film. Ensure that it is well covered to avoid freezer burn.

Cooked bacon

How long does cooked pasta last in the freezer?

Cooked pasta will last up to 2-3 months in the freezer but may last longer depending on whether it is in a sauce, plain or with other ingredients.

Once cooked, the pasta should be chilled down quickly and within 2 hours. Leftovers can also be frozen, so long as they are not left in the refrigerator for too long before freezing.

You can choose to freeze a whole dish, so long as it is covered, or portion the cooked pasta into freezer-safe containers or bags.

Pasta dish

How long do boiled eggs last in the freezer?

Boiled eggs should only be frozen once cooled and peeled, and the yolk will need to be separated from the white before freezing. The reason for this is that egg whites do not tend to freeze well and can become rubbery. Therefore, you may wish to eat the egg whites fresh and freeze only the yolks.

Once separate, the yolks and whites should be transferred to airtight freezer-safe containers or bags (can be kept in the same) and kept in the freezer for up to 3 months. Always defrost in a refrigerator fully before use.

Boiled eggs after freezing

How long do frozen vegetables last in the freezer?

It will depend on whether the vegetables have already been frozen or cooked, the use-by/best before date, how they have been prepared, the type and whether there are any other ingredients. Typically, most vegetables will last for up to a year in the freezer, but it is best to use them before 8 months. If ice crystals are present and there is shrivelling and a lack of colour, the vegetables will likely be unappetising.

The water content of vegetables is particularly important for freezing. Those with higher water content, e.g. aubergine and tomatoes, do not freeze well. You may want to puree these types of vegetable and use in sauces.

Bags of frozen vegetables

How long do frozen fruits last in the freezer?

Like vegetables, it will depend on whether the fruit has already been frozen or cooked, the use-by/best before date, how they have been prepared, the type and whether there are any other ingredients. Most fruit will last around 6-9 months in the freezer.

Fruit will change in texture and colour once frozen. For example, bananas go brown but can still be used in smoothies and baking. If the fruit is in the freezer for too long, it will start to lose its taste and can also become icy, and freezer burnt. Whilst it will still be safe to use, you may choose not to freeze it for long, as it will probably be bland and unappetising.

Selection of frozen fruits

What foods not to freeze

There are very few foods that cannot be frozen, but here are a few examples that shouldn’t be kept in the freezer:

  • Vegetables and salad with a high-water content – Vegetables and salad foods with a high-water content, e.g. lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, do not freeze well at all. They will become soggy, limp, and inedible.
  • Beer – Not a food per se, but freezing beer can be quite hazardous, as the beer inside can expand, causing the container to rupture.
  • Mayonnaise and cream – When mayonnaise and cream start to defrost, they separate and curdle. They start to look like cottage cheese, so not very appetising.
  • Eggs in shells – The shells can crack in the freezer, as the liquid in the egg expands. Cracked shells can encourage bacterial growth during thawing and will make a mess in your freezer.
  • Fried foods – Once foods have been fried and frozen, they become soggy and not as flavoursome, even if they are re-fried.
  • Jellies – Most types of jelly, especially those containing gelatine, will not remain intact after freezing. Jelly will turn back into a liquid, and you will end up with a sort of soup.
  • Foods that have been previously frozen – Once foods have been frozen and defrosted, it is not wise to re-freeze them (especially high-risk foods, e.g. meat, fish and seafood). It depends on the type of food, but it is best if it is cooked, eaten or discarded.
Jelly not to be frozen

Tips for freezing food

Here are some additional tips when freezing food:

  • Check your freezer temperature – Food will only last as long as the freezer is at the correct temperature.
  • Don’t put hot food in the freezer – You risk damaging your appliance, and it will make other foods warm, which can encourage bacterial growth and increase the risk of food poisoning.
  • Label before freezing – It is always best to label the container/bag before freezing. That way, you know the date it was frozen, which will ensure you are using the food at its best.
  • Sauces should be frozen separately – As they will last longer in the freezer than food such as pasta. You may need to add additional liquid to sauces once defrosted, as they can thicken when frozen.
  • You can freeze raw eggs – Always remove the eggs from their shells. You can blend them or separate the yolks from the whites. They can last up to 12 months in the freezer.
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About the author

Michelle Putter

Michelle Putter

Michelle graduated with an MSc in wildlife biology and conservation in 2012, but her career has taken quite a different turn to the one expected. She started in health and safety in 2009 and has worked in several industries such as electrical engineering, aviation and manufacturing. She has been working with CPD Online College since 2018 and became NEBOSH Diploma qualified in 2020. In her spare time, Michelle's passions are wildlife and her garden. She has volunteered for many conservation organisations and particularly enjoys biological recording. Michelle also likes hiking, jogging and cycling.

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