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Myth Busted: Can Mold Grow in the Freezer?

Is your freezer a mold-free zone? Can food ever get moldy if stored inside a properly functioning freezer?

Ever thrown a moldy loaf of bread into the freezer hoping the chill will stop the fuzz? Or maybe you’ve stashed some cheese in there, crossing your fingers that the frost will keep the mold at bay?

Well, you’re not alone: we’ve all been there, questioning and guessing about what our freezers can and cannot do.

So, here’s the question: Can mold actually grow in your freezer?

It’s a hot (or perhaps I should say cold?) topic that’s been on the lips of everyone from beginner cooks to meal prep masters. We’re about to dive into the nitty-gritty of this moldy dilemma, and trust me, you’ll want to know the answer.

Can Mold Grow in the Freezer?

Mold cannot grow in a well-functioning freezer.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, freezing food at 0°F (-18°C) puts any microbes, bacteria, yeasts, and molds that might be present in it in a state of biological pause.1U.S. Department of Agriculture (2023, March 23). Does freezing food kill bacteria? AskUSDA. Retrieved July 24, 2023, from https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/Does-freezing-food-kill-bacteria As long as the food remains frozen, food experts say, these microorganisms are unable to grow. Once the food is thawed, they will start growing again almost immediately.2U.S. Department of Agriculture (2013, June 15). Freezing and Food Safety. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved July 24, 2023, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/freezing-and-food-safety3(2023, January 18). Are You Storing Food Safely? FDA. Retrieved July 24, 2023, from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/are-you-storing-food-safely

If you discover mold on food that you removed from the freezer, there are two potential explanations for how the mold got there: Either the food was already moldy when you put it in the freezer, or your freezer is not maintaining the proper temperature.

It’s very, very important to identify the exact cause.

If you put any moldy food in the freezer, you should discard it and be more careful when freezing food in the future. However, if your freezer is unable to maintain a temperature of 0°F (-18°C), then all the food stored in it could be unsafe to eat and should be thrown away right away.

Why a Malfunctioning Freezer Is Bad News

Bacteria thrive and multiply at temperatures higher than freezing.

If your freezer is not functioning correctly, it means that your food is not being stored safely and may be unsafe to eat.

Eating food that has been overgrown with bacteria, even if it looks fine and has been thoroughly reheated or cooked, can still lead to food poisoning.

Remember, the bacteria that spoil our food are not the same as the bacteria that make us sick. While the former make our food look, smell, and taste bad, the latter are undetectable to our senses and can leave heat-resistant toxins in our food.4Jarvie, M. (2015, October 22). Food spoilage and food pathogens, what’s the difference? MSU Extension. Retrieved July 24, 2023, from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/food_spoilage_and_food_pathogens_whats_the_difference

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 48 million Americans are affected by foodborne illnesses every year. Out of those, 128,000 end up hospitalized, and 3,000 sadly lose their lives.5Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2018, November 5). Burden of Foodborne Illness: Overview. Estimates of Foodborne Illness in the United States. Retrieved July 24, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/estimates-overview.html

While everyone should be cautious about food safety, some groups are at a higher risk of getting very sick than others. This includes children under the age of 5, adults over 65, pregnant women and their unborn babies, and individuals with weakened immune systems (meaning those who are sick or recovering from an illness).6Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2023, July 13). Factors That Increase Your Risk of Food Poisoning. Food Safety. Retrieved July 24, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/people-at-risk-food-poisoning.html

How to Check If Your Freezer Is Working Properly

Now that you understand the importance of having a properly functioning freezer, let’s go over how you can test if yours is working correctly.

To test the functionality of your freezer, follow these steps:

  1. Take a food storage container and fill it about three-quarters of the way with cold tap water.
  2. Keep the container uncovered and place it in the freezer. Leave it in the freezer overnight or until the water has completely frozen and turned into ice.
  3. Once the water has frozen into ice, place a coin on top and close the freezer. Over the next 2 to 3 days, periodically check the coin. If your freezer is functioning properly, the ice will remain frozen, and the coin will stay on the surface. However, if there is an issue with your freezer, the ice will melt, and the coin will slowly but surely sink into the water as it refreezes.

By doing this, you can assess if your freezer is able to properly freeze items and maintain a temperature of 0°F (-18°C).

Bottom Line

And there you have it, folks—the chill truth about mold and your freezer.

The cold is not the enemy of mold but merely puts it into a temporary freeze frame. Our frigid friend, the freezer, doesn’t have a magic wand to erase the mold, but it does have a ‘pause’ button to hold back the spread. So, remember, freezing won’t solve a mold problem if the food was already moldy when it hit the ice box.

Plus, you now know that a malfunctioning freezer is like a ticking time bomb, potentially allowing bacteria to party on your precious eats. Nobody wants their grub to make them groan, right?

So let’s take food safety seriously to avoid those unpleasant visits to the hospital, or worse.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.