Can You Cook Frozen Foods That Are Past Their Expiration?

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You probably have some food in your freezer that is past its expiration date. And you might not know what to do with these foods. They might look fine, but the expiration date has come and gone, and it is supposed to be there to tell you when food items are no longer safe to eat.

General Guidelines

When you plan to freeze any food, buy it before it has reached its expiration date, and then get it into the freezer as soon as you get it home, advises the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Meat and poultry should remain in its original packaging until just before you use it, but if you plan to freeze any food item for longer than a couple of months, use airtight plastic wrap, freezer paper or heavy foil to maintain quality. As long as you get the food into the freezer while it is still good, it will stay safe in the freezer for an indefinite period. The quality won't stay the same forever, but as long as it remains frozen at zero degrees Fahrenheit, it will be safe to cook and to eat.

Foods in Play

Most fresh meats in their packaging, or cooked meat, will keep for at least a few months in the freezer. This includes various cuts of beef, pork, poultry and fish. Individual pieces of the meat, or complete dishes including the meat may be frozen and then cooked or re-cooked at a later date. Vegetables will also freeze, and can be used in stews or soups at a later date, but their texture may change when you thaw them. No bacteria will grow inside the freezer, and the only issue will be ice crystals forming and affecting the quality of the food.

Foods to Ignore

Some foods don't take well to freezing, because the food's texture changes when it freezes and is then thawed. These include fresh eggs, hard cooked eggs, mayonnaise, and most deli-prepared meals and salads, including chicken, tuna or ham salads, pre-stuffed chicken breasts or pork chops and various vacuum-packed dinners. If you are unsure, eat the food while it's still fresh.

How to Thaw

Most frozen foods need to be thawed before you can use them. The easiest way to thaw frozen food is to place it in the fridge and wait until it has thawed. This can take eight hours or more, depending on the food. If you thaw food in the fridge, you can usually store it there for a few days. If you don't have the time to wait for the food to thaw, fill a bowl or a sanitized kitchen sink with cold water and submerge the package of frozen food until it has thawed. Change the water every 30 minutes to ensure it's cold. If you don't have time for that, use your microwave's defrost feature and separate smaller pieces of meat as it thaws. If you thawed food in the microwave or in cold water, cook it or eat it straight away. Never thaw anything in hot water or at room temperature as this could lead to food poisoning.