March is National Frozen Foods Month, so what better time to share the best tips for freezing and defrosting chicken, and also answer a few of the frequently asked questions we get regarding chicken in the freezer.
Per FSIS-USDA guidelines, if kept frozen continuously, chicken will be safe indefinitely, so after freezing, it's not important if any package dates expire. For best quality, taste and texture, keep whole raw chicken in the freezer up to one year; parts, 9 months; and giblets or ground chicken, 3 to 4 months. Cooked chicken will taste best if kept frozen up to 4 months; cooked poultry casseroles or pieces covered with broth or gravy, 6 months; and chicken nuggets or patties, 1 to 3 months. Chicken may be frozen in its original packaging or repackaged. If you plan to freeze chicken longer than 2 months, overwrap the wrapped plastic packages with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper, or place the package inside a freezer bag. Use these materials or airtight freezer containers to freeze the chicken from opened packages or repackage family packs of chicken into smaller amounts.
Use a permanent marker and masking tape to note the "frozen on" date on package before freezing.
If purchasing already frozen chicken products, they can also remain good indefinitely if kept properly frozen, but follow the “Best Use By” date on the packaging for optimal quality and taste.
We often get asked what causes freezer burn and is it safe to eat? Proper wrapping prevents "freezer burn," which appears as grayish-brown leathery spots and is caused by air reaching the surface of food while in the freezer. While this may be unappealing, it is safe to eat chicken after this occurs. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the chicken. If the chicken is heavily freezer-burned, it may have to be discarded , because the meat will possibly be tough and/or tasteless.
To keep your chicken fresh, repackage or follow tip above for adding additional packaging to add a barrier between the chicken and air in your freezer. Place chicken in freezer safe bags and manually push out as much air as possible before sealing or use a vacuum sealing food saving machine.
The safest way to defrost chicken is to place in the fridge for 1-2 days prior to date needed. Larger cuts and whole chickens can take up to 2 days to thaw in the refrigerator. Never leave chicken out to thaw at room temperature. Once thawed, the chicken can be kept in the refrigerator for another day or two before cooking. Any chicken thawed in the refrigerator that is not used, can safely be refrozen without cooking.
If crunched for time, use the cold water method following USDA guidelines:
Place chicken in a frozen leak proof plastic bag, and submerge in a large bowl filled with cold tap water, making sure the bag is sealed before placing in water.
Change out the water every 30 minutes until chicken is completely thawed.
Whole chickens (3-4 lbs) or a tray pack of parts will most likely take 2-3 hours to thaw with this method. A 1 lb package of boneless skinless chicken should thaw withing an hour.
Cook immediately after thawing with this method.
Microwaving to defrost is another recommended method. Follow the recommended procedure from your microwave manufacturer. Any chicken defrosted using the microwave method should be cooked immediately, because parts of the chicken may have become warm and started to cook.
Chicken defrosted using the water or microwave method should be cooked before refreezing.