Have you seen those dates on packages that say “Use or Freeze By”? Have you ever wondered what that date means? Let’s find out!
What Does the Freeze By Date Mean?
The “use by” date is when the company recommends that you eat the item for the best quality. The date on the chicken wings in the picture below is December 15, 2015. I bought these wings on December 4. The wings won’t magically go bad on December 16, but the quality is going to start to go downhill pretty quickly after that. As long as the uncooked wings are stored in their original package and refrigerated correctly, they will be fine until December 15. The recommendation for chicken is to only keep them in your refrigerator for 1-2 days. So by December 17, this chicken needs to either be eaten or thrown away.
If you aren’t going to use them up before the date on the package, your best bet is to freeze them. Freezing won’t reset the date, but does make the wings store for a while longer. (Check out this chart on Home Storage Solutions 101 for an idea of how long you can store foods in the freezer.) I won’t use these before December 15, so they earned a spot in my freezer.
I also bought this ham on December 4. Its “use or freeze by” date is January 15, 2016. This is a smoked ham, so it will keep longer in your refrigerator than those fresh chicken wings will. (Cris & Sara have some awesome information about how to cook ham over on Recipes That Crock.) I am planning on using this ham for Christmas, but I don’t have room in my refrigerator to keep it until then. So it’s going in the freezer, too. A cooked whole ham can stay in your refrigerator for up to a week. This ham needs to be gone (one way or another) by January 22.
Freezing doesn’t kill any bacteria that might be on the food, but it puts the bacteria on hold. Once you take food out of the freezer (and safely thaw it, of course), you do need to be mindful of how long it stays in your refrigerator. Follow these guidelines to know how long different foods will stay fresh in your refrigerator.
Freezing can be a great way to stock up on meats when they are on sale, and save them until later. Just be mindful of the dates on the packages, and when you take them out of the freezer. How do you use your freezer?