When you stumble upon a can of expired frozen food, you have to deliberate whether you should discard it or eat it.
Freezing food at temperatures of 0 degrees or below effectively halts all bacterial activities. As long as the food remains at these temperatures, it is essentially safe for consumption, and it will easily outlast its expiration date.
In this article, we talk about if you can eat frozen food, the effects of eating this food, and how to discern if expired frozen food is still good for consumption.
Can You Eat Expired Frozen Food?
Under freezing conditions, no organisms can multiply on the food extending the longevity and nutrient content of stored foods.
Also, the expiration dates, ‘best before’ or ‘best by’ labels are an indicator of quality rather than food safety. The label refers to how long the food will retain its peak quality.
After the elapse of the stated period, you can still eat the food if you find it appropriate. However, you will notice the food’s flavor and texture are gradually deteriorating.
How Long Does Frozen Food Last After the Expiration Date
Frozen foods will remain safe for eating months after the ‘best by date. However, the duration it will last is subject to some other factors. These include:
Type of food
Vegetables are the most perishable foods. Due to enzyme activity, the mineral and vitamin content starts deteriorating as soon as they leave the farm. While freezing is done as quickly as possible to prevent bacterial growth, it merely slows down the enzyme activity.
Consequently, you need to consume vegetables between 3-6 months after the onset of their expiration date. If you wait for too long, the food can rot, and you may end up eating roughage with no nutritional value.
Meats retain their quality much longer than vegetables. Similarly, the type of meat also determines how long it will last.
Fish products are highly perishable, and you should ensure you eat them within the shortest time frame after expiry to avoid food poisoning. Beef, lamb, and poultry will last considerably longer, 4-12 months, under the ideal storage conditions.
You will find most frozen cereals in air-tight containers, and they can last up to years past their ‘best before dates. Cereals contain natural oils, which under less than optimal conditions, become contaminants.
If the oils go rancid, it is an indication that the expired cereal is no longer fit for consumption.
Raw or Cooked
Frozen foods, especially meat, last much longer if it is stored while raw. The handling and ingredients present in cooked meat predispose it to higher bacteria activity.
According to USDA, never leave your frozen food out at room temperature for more than 2 hours since it makes it more susceptible to spoiling.
Freezing food doesn’t necessarily kill all bacteria. Some survive, but they can’t thrive under such conditions. When the expired frozen food begins to defrost, the increase in temperature also accelerates the bacterial activity.
Maintaining an optimum environment keeps the expired frozen food longer. Avoid temperature fluctuations such as switching your freezer on and off or transferring the food to the refrigerator.
Once the food is out of the freezer, it will not last long, so you should always eat or cook it shortly after.
Can Old Frozen Food Make You Sick
Don’t get us wrong; expiration dates on frozen foods are essential. While the side effects of you eating expired frozen foods are usually inconsequential, it is not without risks.
Since freezing doesn’t effectively get rid of bacteria, food poisoning can happen. Germs during food handling and packaging can remain inactive for long periods causing stomach upsets and intestinal irritations. You should also prepare frozen foods adequately according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
How Can You Tell if Frozen Food Has Gone Bad?
While frozen foods usually last pretty long when you store them properly, they can still decay in certain situations. Here are some of the factors to look for:
It is the simplest way to tell if your frozen food has gone bad. The emission of a foul smell signifies that the food is starting to rot.
The odor will typically get stronger as other parts of the food decompose. It would be best if you discarded the entirely of frozen food immediately.
Red meat begins to turn gray or dark brown while bright vegetables become dull or brownish. With flesh, you don’t necessarily need to discard the whole chunk. If you can isolate the affected part, you can cut it off and remain with the viable piece.
Fresh vegetables are usually leafy and crispy. After an extended period in the freezer, the leaves may wither and become sticky. Besides, you might find that your meat has become slimy after you thaw it. The frozen food is probably decaying, and do not attempt to consume it.
If your food is infested with maggots, discard the entire thing. The food is beyond redemption, and consuming such a meal can cause a myriad of gastric complications.
Despite the apparent deterioration of the flavor and freshness of the expired frozen food, you can still eat it if there are no signs of decay.
Here’s a video explaining more about the signs of a food worsening over time:
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you eat expired food with freezer burn?
Yes, foods with freezer burn are still edible if the ‘burns’ are not extensive. These parts often turn gray and leathery.
The burns only serve as indications that the quality of the food is deteriorating. You can still eat the food if you cut off the affected portions.
How do you safely thaw expired frozen food?
The simplest and safest way is to defrost it inside the refrigerator. The food will thaw under controlled temperatures slowing down the bacteria exposure. The downside is it takes quite a reasonable amount of time to defrost.
Alternatively, you can use cold water, which requires frequent changing of the bowl of water every 30 or so minutes. A microwave is the quickest solution, but unfortunately, it requires you to consume the food immediately after thawing.
Is stale food bad?
Frozen food getting stale is a common phenomenon. The food might not taste as good, but it doesn’t mean the food is rotting away. You can still consume the food if your taste buds can allow it. Alternatively, you can use some spices to improve its flavor.
There is no straight answer to whether you can eat expired frozen food or not. While you can eat it, there is always a risk of contamination which varies with the type of food and the elapsed period.
Check with the manufacturer’s guidelines or use your senses of touch and sight to determine if the expired food is safe to eat.
Do not taste any expired frozen food when you doubt its safety; throw it out! It is not worth taking a chance with your well-being on the line.