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The dramatic effects of freezing something almost always has an immediate impact on taste. But it seems like the longer something is in the freezer the worse it tastes. Recently, I found some months old raw chicken in the back of the freezer and it definitely tasted slightly strange.

So, beyond the initial freezing process, how long can you store frozen chicken before being frozen affects its taste?

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raw chicken, or previously cooked? –  Joe Jan 18 '11 at 22:29
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Please... should be "affects its taste", not "effects it's taste". (Good question, though.) –  Neil Fein Jan 19 '11 at 3:27
    
Aside from initial quality, post-thawed quality depends on the freezer and even the location within it. Things I keep in a door of the frost-free freezer over my fridge can get quite freezer "burned" within a month. Takes much longer for that to happen to something in the colder and lesser air current of a top-open deep freeze. In a good freezer, I'd say 3-6 months is not a problem. –  zanlok Jan 19 '11 at 21:06
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up vote 7 down vote accepted

The change in flavor is mainly affected by packaging and how long before it gets frozen.

Packaging: If you have vacuum sealed chicken it will last quite a while. It won't get freezer burnt, dry out or pick up flavors from other freezer occupants. I would say properly packaged will last months to a year range depending on your taste buds.

Time before freezing: I have a habit of buying meat to cook right away, but end up freezing it raw several days after the fact. I then see it a week or two later and pull it out to cook. It never tastes as good as when I freeze it immediately.

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As Wulfhart mentioned the packaging and time before freezing are very important, other major factors are the temperature food is stored at and the speed freezing takes place. Food bought frozen is flash frozen to minimise the size of water crystals which form in the process. This minimises the impact on flavour and texture.

If you freeze food at home, use the fast freeze option if you have one (these usualy take your freezer to about -26°C) then this will be better than freezing at -18°C (normal freezer temperature) but not as good as flash freezing.

The temperature of your freezer is affected by how full your freezer is, how well you maintain it (keeping it from icing up) and the quality of your freezer. If your freezer is constantly at or below -18°C and the chicken was bought frozen tests have shown little measurable change at 12 months.

If your freezer is not cold enough, changes temperature a lot or was frozen slowly, then larger ice crystals form and the changes you mentioned occur.

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There was a question about freezing fish recently which was similar (but had the overtone of food safety, not taste). Personally, I only like to freeze meat for up to a month (on the top end). I find that unless it is really, really well protected, anything more than that has a really noticeable effect. However, there are some cuts, like ground beef, that I will keep longer, simply due to the type of dish that they are being used in.

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