Yes, those pork chops are probably safe to eat. But that doesn’t mean you should.
Look inside your average Southerner’s freezer and you’ll probably find a lot more than ice cream. There’s a bag of last summer’s bumper crop of strawberries, a pound cake for a postponed school bake sale, a few chicken breasts that were on sale at the Pig, some pulled pork made in the slow cooker, a fix-and-freeze casserole–or two. And a bunch of things that are so covered in freezer burn that they might has well have been there since the Ice Age.
We hate to waste food, which means all those uneaten extras and odds and ends get tucked away in freezer bags and containers for an unforeseen date in the future. Sometimes those good intentions pay off—who doesn’t love coming home to a bowl of homemade beef stew that you only had to defrost and reheat in the microwave? According to the USDA, if food is frozen properly (at 0˚ or below) it should be safe to eat indefinitely. But that doesn’t mean that that pizza from a year ago will taste good. Here are a few signs your frozen food may be past its prime.
Examine the Color
Many foods change color when frozen for a long time. A piece of uncooked beef may turn from red to brown, or raw chicken might turn white. Vegetables may pale in color. This doesn’t mean that the food is unsafe to eat, but it’s a sign that it might not be as flavorful as you’d like.
Inspect for Freezer Burn
Freezer burn happens when food isn’t stored properly in the freezer, causing moisture to escape and turn into ice crystals. Although the food is still edible, this coating of ice “burns” the food, causing it to have a drier texture and less flavor. To prevent freezer burn, eliminating as much air as possible when you’re storing the food. Plastic freezer bags do a better job of this than storage containers.
WATCH: How to Freeze Cake
Check for Ice Crystals
Who hasn’t peeled open the lid of a pint of ice cream to find a thick layer of ice crystals underneath? (Okay, maybe not if you consider a pint a single serving.) While it’s probably safe to scrape off the ice and dig in, the ice cream will likely have a dry texture and may have even absorbed some of the odors from your freezer—not exactly delicious. A small layer of ice crystals on ice cream or other foods is normal, and probably won’t affect the flavor. Large ice crystals or a thick layer of ice are a sign that the food will not taste fresh.