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Is that food 'still tasty?' Food storage and safety

Published September 15. 2010 05:00PM

When my husband asked for ham last week, I was very excited. We've had a large ham in our freezer for months now and I couldn't wait to get that freezer space back.

When I pulled the ham out of the freezer to thaw, I checked the sell-by date. Much to my surprise, the ham's sell-by date was May 2009. I guess this ham has been in our freezer longer than I thought.

I don't let my frugal tendencies stand in the way of my family's health. Should I toss the ham, or is it still safe to eat? Admit it you've had this problem before. I can't be the only person who has ever "lost" a ham or roast in the freezer. I wasn't sure what to do with a ham that's been frozen for nearly 18 months, but it seemed a waste to throw it out without investigating.

Fortunately, I recently discovered a great website called "Still Tasty: Your Ultimate Shelf Life Guide," at They've gathered food storage tips and safety information from state and federal government agencies, including the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You can search for a particular food or browse their database by category fruits and vegetables, meat and poultry, fish, baked goods, and more.

I searched for fully cooked ham and discovered that commercially packaged and sealed hams can be stored in the freezer for 1- 2 months for optimal quality and taste. They also provided extra tips for storage and mentioned that if you're storing food at 0 degrees, a ham will remain safe to eat "indefinitely." The 1-2 month recommendation is meant for food quality, not food safety. Excellent!

Feeling slightly less guilty, I continued to thaw the ham and served it for dinner that night. I reasoned that if there was any freezer burn, it would likely be on the ham skin anyway, and we don't eat the skin. We didn't notice a difference between our normal "fresh" frozen ham and our "lost" freezer ham. Thank you for the advice, Still!

In hindsight, I could have avoided this problem with better freezer management. We were in a hurry when we repacked our freezer after defrosting it last year, and a few of the bulkier items were pushed to the back to make the best use of space. I wouldn't have left our year-old ham "chilling" in the back of our freezer if I'd known it was there.

Still, it's good to know that frozen foods will keep "indefinitely." You can prevent freezer burn by keeping foods sealed in their original packaging or double-wrapping them in freezer paper. Keep this in mind the next time you buy too much meat or other products. Just don't forget about your food in the freezer. The freshest foods will always have the best quality.

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