Your guide to freezing food

Whether it’s left over’s or excess ingredients that you know you won’t eat before they go off, the freezer has always been a reliable form of storage.

Your guide to freezing food

Whether it’s left-overs or excess ingredients that you know you won’t eat before they go off, the freezer has always been a reliable form of storage. Not only does it help us to conveniently preserve our food but it also helps to retain the flavours and freshness of seasonal produce, allowing us to enjoy them all year round. If you often find yourself trying to defrost an ice block that once was a loaf of bread, or hacking at the freezer to free a piece of unidentifiable meat, help is at hand with The British Frozen Food Federation’s tips and guidelines for freezing food.

** Storing frozen foods:**

• Food stored consistently at -18°C or lower will remain safe indefinitely.

• Most domestic freezers should operate at temperatures -18°C or lower. As a general rule, if your freezer can’t keep an ice cream block solid, its temperature is above the recommended level.

• Always refer to the on-pack ‘best before’ date. The manufacturer’s ‘best before’ date is a quality indicator and is the date until which the product will remain of peak quality (when stored at -18°C or below).

• Try to rotate foods; putting newly purchased items at the back of the freezer so older items are used first.

• Freeze your food in appropriate containers, for example, freezer bags and airtight containers.

On the packaging of a frozen food item there is often guidance stating how long the food can be stored using freezers of a given star rating. As a guide here are some suggested maximum storage times at -18°C for a variety of foods.

Practical Storage Life (in months)

2 - 4 months


Clams, oysters

Oily fish (herring, salmon, mackerel, etc)

6 months

Ice cream

Pork joints, chops

Prawns, lobster, crab


8 months

White fish, cod, haddock, etc

10 months

Beef mince

Flat fish, sole, plaice, etc

Lamb joints, chops

12 months

Beef joints, steaks

Corn on the hob


15 months


Brussels sprouts


18 months


Green Beans



24 months

Potato Chips

(These figures refer to commercially frozen products; food frozen at home is unlikely to remain of high quality for the same length of time).

** Safe ways to defrost:**

• The purpose of thawing foods thoroughly before cooking is to ensure that during cooking the food is heated sufficiently to kill harmful bacteria.

• There are three safe ways to defrost food;

  1. In the refrigerator.

  2. In cold water.

  3. In the microwave*.

*Most importantly, follow instructions from manufacturer.

• It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. The bottom of the fridge is ideal.

• For faster defrosting, place food in a leak proof plastic bag and immerse it in cold water. Change water every 30 minutes. After thawing, cook immediately.

Cooking from frozen:

• Many ready prepared foods can be safely cooked directly from the frozen state because the manufactures have designed the cooking method to ensure that the food is properly cooked. Therefore, if the pack tells you to ‘cook from frozen’ it is important to do so, as this will give the best results. Always follow the cooking instructions on the packaging carefully.

• Always cook vegetables from frozen in order to keep the nutrients ‘locked in’.

Refreezing thawed foods:

• Refreezing thawed foods is not advised from either a safety or quality point of view. The main reason is to avoid the risk of improper defrosting methods, i.e. thawing at room temperature for too long a time or letting the thawed food get too warm before refreezing is started.

Storing thawed foods:

• Thawed foods should be treated as carefully as chilled foods, i.e. kept in the refrigerator.

• Care should be taken to ensure that juices released after thawing do not drip onto the refrigerator surfaces - therefore, thawed meets should be stored covered at the bottom of a fridge for no more than 24 hours. Unless advised otherwise by the manufacturer.

What to do if your freezer fails:

  1. Don’t Panic!

  2. Keep the doors of the freezer shut.

  3. Check that it is switched on at the mains.

  4. Replace the fuse.

  5. Check with friends and neighbours if they can store your frozen food.

  6. Call a service engineer - if the engineer is likely to be prompt keep the freezer door closed Depending on how full the freezer is, produce can remain frozen for 24 hours or more. The more full the freezer, the longer the contents will remain frozen.

  7. After the repairs have been made do the following:

a) If the frozen foods have defrosted, remove them from the freezer and check their temperature close to the surface of each item. If it is warmer than the temperature of a refrigerator (>4°C) discard the products now and check your household insurance policy or any freezer warranty you have, you may be covered. Take this opportunity to thoroughly clean the surfaces according to the freezer manufacturers instructions. Allow to dry with the door open and the freezer switched off, prior to restocking the freezer.

b) If foods have thawed but are still colder than 4°C store them at the bottom of a refrigerator and use within 24 hours. Once fully cooked many foods can be frozen to be used within one month. Foods intended to be consumed frozen (e.g. ice cream) should be discarded.

c) If foods are still frozen and have not softened, turn the freezer to its maximum setting for 24 hours, before restoring to a setting, which maintains a temperature of -18°C.