Things In Your Freezer You Should Be Throwing Out

A freezer can be an incredibly useful tool to help you stock up on ingredients or store leftovers. However, sometimes when things get thrown in the freezer, they end up sticking around in there way too long. It's time for a good deep cleaning.

"Once a month, I schedule an hour of my day to carefully extract everything from my freezer like a game of Jenga [...] toss out unrecognizable concoctions, then reorganize and put it all back in," Laura Pauli, a chef and certified sommelier at Cucina Testa Rossa, told Mashed.

Ultimately, for many items, how long it can hang out in the freezer depends on how it's stored. "I store everything I possibly can in mason jars," said Pauli. "I've found food lasts much longer in both the freezer and the fridge in glass jars than in plastic containers and Ziploc bags." It's also worth being considered that the food won't absorb the other odors in the freezer if it's stored in a nonreactive container made of glass. That's absolutely a win, so long as you follow some important rules about freezing food in glass.

But whether or not you have those jars laying around, there are some important considerations to keep in mind when cleaning out that overpacked freezer, regardless of container. So, let's get real honest with ourselves. These are the things in your freezer you should probably be throwing out by now.

Unlabeled leftovers should probably go

Using leftovers or batch cooking are both great ways to stretch a meal and make sure there are future dinners in the freezer to heat up on a busy night. But, alas, they can't live in the freezer forever!

If you have a lot of unlabeled or un-dated leftovers in your freezer, it's probably time to admit defeat and throw them away. "Freezer meals don't last forever," says Megan Byrd of The Oregon Dietitian. "[I]t's important to label and date them so you know exactly what they are and when you made them [...] Well-packaged freezer meals should last at least six months in your freezer, but the general rule of thumb is about three months."

Of course, if it's unlabeled or not dates in any way, you simply don't know how old it is. You may try to think back, but are you sure you've got the date right? It may be fine, but it also may not be good at all. So, when in doubt, throw it out! No one wants to eat old mystery food anyway, so just play it safe and just remember to label your leftovers next time.

The ice cube tray may need to be replaced

It may seem like ice cubes will last forever. It's not like water can spoil, right? While that's technically true, there are other aspects to consider. For example, after a long time in the freezer, even ice cubes can start smelling and tasting not so fresh. No one wants that freshly made cocktail to smell like garlic or fish, after all, unless you're a very adventurous foodie indeed. 

Plainly put, ice cubes will absorb the flavors of your refrigerator over time. This means that you will want to toss your ice tray if you haven't used the dispenser in a while. "The ice cubes will just clump together and after a while can take on the taste and smell of some items in your freezer, such as onions or garlic," Rochelle Wilkinson, owner of Dirt Detectives Cleaning, told Mashed. Practically anything that's in your freezer might lend a taste to old ice cubes, so take the time to clean out the tray and just make some fresh ice.

Anything that's got the dreaded freezer burn

It's so frustrating to open a freezer to take out that steak you've been saving for a special occasion, only to discover that it seems to have fallen victim to the dreaded freezer burn. What do you do now? Is all lost?

While you can safely eat most freezer-burned food, you may not really want to do so. Generally speaking, your nose can be your most valuable asset when determining the severity of freezer burn. "Food has water in it," Melanie Musson, a food safety expert with Clearsurance, told Mashed. "When food is frozen for a long time, especially if it's not sealed fully, that water starts to evaporate and leads to freezer burn." 

For example, meat that's freezer burned looks shriveled, discolored, and dry. It also carries a pretty peculiar smell. "You'll learn to recognize the smell and use your memory to identify freezer-burned food that may not look too bad," said Musson. If you freeze leftovers in a plastic container with a tight lid, they should be okay in your frost-free freezer for a month and up to three months in a deep freeze. Anything that's freezer burned, however, simply has to go.

Dairy has a short life in the freezer

While it's great to have a tub of ice cream in the freezer for when a craving hits, that sweet treat can't hang out in the deep freeze forever. While that can be a good thing, as it means you'll just have to eat it a bit faster, it's also a reminder to keep an eye on how long any dairy product has been hanging out in the freezer.

Items like dairy do not hold up more than one to three months in a freezer. That includes products like ice cream, milk, and yogurt. "When you go to thaw them to use after too long in the freezer they will clump up and have a curdled texture," Rochelle Wilkinson, owner of Dirt Detectives Cleaning, told Mashed.

However, there is one dairy exception that can last a pretty long time in the freezer, at least compared to its fellows. The one dairy item that can stay frozen and not lose taste or texture for up to twelve months is none other than butter, says Wilkinson. That's great news if you have a sudden hankering to bake a cake! 

Meat and poultry can only be frozen under the right conditions

According to Healthline, meat can be refrozen as long as it was in the refrigerator (or some other sort of cold storage, such as a cooler) while it thawed. It also must be refrozen within 3 to 4 days. Of course, that is all working under the assumption that the meat was not left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours and was never in a place for more than one hour where the temperature was more than 90 degrees. This is all to say that you can refreeze meat as long as the meat wasn't in a position where it could have started to spoil — and then been frozen.

So, if you haven't been able to follow all of those guidelines or you aren't sure if it's true, it's best to toss that meat into the garbage. If your meat has been safely stored in the freezer and wasn't at any point thawed and refrozen, it should be good for about three months if it's ground (and the ground meat is stored correctly), or up to a year if it's any other type of fresh meat, according to the USDA.

Seafood should leave the freezer pretty quickly

Much like with fresh meat, frozen seafood can spoil if the fish thaws during transport and is left at warm temperatures for too long before cooking. "Pack your frozen seafood in an insulated bag and keep chilled on your drive home from the market," Rima Kleiner MS, RD, of Dish on Fish, told Mashed

Be sure that you don't refreeze seafood that has been thawed. "Taste and texture quality suffers when frozen seafood is thawed and then refrozen," said Kleiner. Also, definitely avoid packages with signs of frost or ice crystals. "This may mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen," said Kleiner. 

While we're at it, frozen fish should not be bendable. "Avoid packages where the "frozen" fish flesh is not hard," Kleiner cautions. Watch out for frozen seafood packages that have white or dark spots or any discoloration, too, which could indicate spoilage.

If you aren't sure all that is true with your fish, toss that fish. If all the fish has been safely stored, the USDA recommends that, for best quality, you can only freeze cooked fish for up to 3 months. Meanwhile, frozen raw fish is best used within 3 to 8 months and shellfish should be consumed within 3 to 12 months. Any time longer than that, and you should probably play it safe and toss the frozen fish in the trash.

Coffee shouldn't see the inside of a freezer

Have you just picked up a big bag of your favorite coffee beans? Maybe they were kind of expensive and you want to make them taste fresh longer. Some may think storing them in the freezer is a good idea, but don't fall for it. According to Taste of Home, it's better to grind those beans and then place them in an airtight container is a better idea than storing the beans whole in the freezer. That's because the freezer can alter the cellular structure of the beans as the beans freeze, according to Perfect Daily Grind.

But is it a good idea? Can people really put ground coffee or coffee beans in the freezer to keep them fresh and prolong their lifespan? Yes, it's possible, but there are risks, especially if you don't make sure that coffee is stored in an airtight container. "[Coffee grounds] can absorb the smell and taste of other stuff around them," says Elliot Reimers, certified nutrition coach of Rave Reviews. "So if they're sitting in the freezer for too long, it's better to throw them out." Ultimately, it might just be better to avoid putting coffee in the freezer in the first place.

Vegetables shouldn't be frozen forever

Fresh produce has such a short shelf life in the fridge that it may sound like a good idea to go with frozen instead. But how long can those frozen veggies and fruits really last in the freezer?

Turns out that they can last a pretty long time there, but not forever. "Frozen vegetables can last for eight months in the freezer, but if they're freezer-burned and more than three months, it's best to buy something fresh," says Elliot Reimers, certified nutrition coach of Rave Reviews. That's still a good long while to enjoy those frozen vegetables, whether they are produce that you bought fresh and then froze, or pre-packaged frozen vegetables. That said, it does serve as a reminder to take a glance at the date on those veggies during your regular freezer cleanout. Frozen vegetables pack in freshness and are a great way to enjoy vegetables even when they are out of season, but just do so with safety in mind.

Bread doesn't belong in the freezer for very long

Did you make that trendy sourdough bread during your lastest stretch of at-home work? Or did you maybe stock up on bagels for a weekend brunch but are now fretting that they'll get moldy first? Throwing bread in the freezer can actually be a great way to preserve it, but it won't last forever.

There's no doubt that freshly-baked bread is utterly delicious. However, we all know that fresh bread can get stale pretty quickly, given that it's free of the preservatives that keep the grocery store stuff shelf-stable for longer. Freezing bread is a good way to slow down the staling process, according to Epicurious. When you're ready to eat up the bread, try reheating it straight from its frozen state, which goes a long way to making it feel and taste fresh all over again.

According to Kitchn, a loaf of bread can be safely stored in the freezer once that bread has cooled completely and has been tightly wrapped in a few layers of plastic. At that point, it can last up to six months in the freezer. However, flavors will start to diminish after the first month, so don't hold onto those bagels too long!