Frozen food: A guide to use by dates

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Frozen food purchased from supermarkets must have a verified storage temperature and use by date on the packaging, writes Marjorie Harvey, founder and director of Australia Food Hygiene Services.

The dates can vary for different brands, even though the product may be simular (i.e. frozen fish). The use by date depends on the manufacturing process (i.e. snap freezing or ordinary freezing processes and vacuum sealing). Ingredients, preservatives or additives may also assist with extending the use by date. As long as we adhere to those listed temperatures and shelf life conditions, the food should stay safe to eat up to its use by date.

What about when we freeze products at home?

The frozen timeframe can depend on:

  • how large the product is when we freeze it
  • how old it is when we place it in the freezer
  • the ingredient type (i.e. bread compared to meat)
  • how long it took to cool it down before placing in the freezer

A recommended guide for ‘in house’ frozen foods such as chicken, meat, fish, casseroles, hamburgers, cooked rice and pasta dishes or any product with high risk ingredients would be two months.

Freezing ingredients or products purchased from a supermarket that have been ‘reduced for quick sale’ need to have at least a two-day use by date, allowing time for them to become rock hard frozen in the centre and time to thaw – taking into account the time and temperature during transporting home. A use by date is only relevant if it is kept in the condition it was tested for.

If a frozen product is thawed or partially thawed, it needs to be treated as fresh refrigerated food and used within three days. Never refreeze thawed or partially thawed food.

Thaw food under refrigerated conditions or in a microwave. If thawing in a microwave, continue cooking immediately after the thawing is completed. If you are in a hurry, you can thaw under running water, providing the ingredients are being used or cooked within two hours.

Always date the food when freezing, so you remember the use by date, and to assist with rotating your frozen foods.

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