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Nobody likes to waste food. Thanks to technological advances over the last century, we’re now able to freeze food, thaw it out, and re-heat it whenever we want to eat it. But how long can we really store it in the freezer? What causes freezer burn? Is it really safe to eat food that’s been frozen for over a year?

The USDA Says Frozen Food Is Safe

There are freezing guidelines everywhere, from food packages to website recommendations. Some say to store food no longer than a few months, while others say up to a year. However, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, all food stored at zero degrees is safe to eat.

Frozen food remains safe indefinitely, according to the USDA. The guidelines we see are for when the food will still taste good.

Food Tastes Better The Sooner It’s Eaten

The sooner you eat food that’s been frozen, the closer it’ll be to its original taste. Your food degrades in quality the longer it sits in your freezer. It’s only losing its flavor, though, and it won’t harm you if you eat it.

Freezer burn never tastes good. But at least your food is still safe to eat.

The Science Of Freezing

When you freeze that ground beef for a later occasion (Fourth of July hamburgers, anybody?), you’re stopping microorganisms from overtaking the meat, causing it to spoil. Microbes go into a dormant stage while frozen, only re-emerging when food has been thawed out.

Those microbes and bacteria become active again when your food’s been thawed, so be sure to cook it right away. Of course, if food has a rancid smell or color, throw it away immediately. But for meat that just doesn’t look all that great and has probably lost some of its flavor, you can always add it to a soup or stew.