Does Freezing Kill Bacteria in Food?


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Last Updated: May 2, 2022

Got some meat, veggies, or other food that has started to grow slimy bacteria and thinking of putting it in the freezer? 

Here’s what you need to know about freezing and spoiled food.

Yes, Freezing Can Kill Bacteria

Freezing does kill some types of bacteria.  Studies show that freezing can decrease the number of viable bacteria once thawed.  Techniques such as repeated freezing and thawing can also decrease bacteria’s ability to survive.

But Freezing Should Never Be Used to Sterilize Food

While freezing might kill some types of bacteria or reduce amounts, it does not reliably kill all types of bacteria – including ones commonly responsible for food poisonings such as E. Coli and Salmonella.

Instead, freezing simply puts the bacteria into a hibernation-like state: the bacteria will start to multiply once thawed. In fact, some types of bacteria are so resistant to freezing that viable cells have been found in Arctic permafrost 1-3 million years old! Because of this, freezing should never be used to sterilize food.

Freeze Food Before It Goes Bad

While freezing won’t make spoiled food safe to eat, you can freeze food to prevent it from going bad.  The key is to get the food into the freezer before it goes bad.  Once you take the food out of the freezer, the bacteria will start to grow again, so you’ll need to eat it quickly.

You can actually freeze pretty much all foods.  Fruits and vegetables generally need to be chopped first and will lose their texture once thawed, but are still great for smoothies and stews. 

Other types of foods need to be divided up before freezing.  Read how to freeze eggs and milk here.

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