Meat bought from a market can typically be kept in its original packaging. The package should be examined first for breaks or holes, but an airtight one will keep the meat safe at the recommended temperature. Wrap the cuts of butchered meat in an airtight container first. If freezing for a period of time longer than two months, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises covering the packaging with airtight foil or plastic wrap.
A critical component of storing meat is the freezing temperature. Ideally, meat should be kept frozen at or below 0°F (-18°C). According to the USDA, at this temperature, bacteria cannot grow and all other microbes, including yeasts and moulds, are killed off in the food.
A thermometer can be used to determine whether the temperature in a freezer will rise to this level. Some frequently used freezers might struggle to maintain these low temperatures, putting the food at risk of bacterial development and spoilage.
Meat from the freezer can be thawed and defrosted in three different ways.
Thawing the sealed package in the refrigerator is the slowest and possibly safest method. Larger cuts of meat may take several days to defrost, whereas smaller cuts may take only a few hours. Meat can be put in a leak-proof plastic bag and set in a tub of cold water to safely thaw it more quickly. Every 30 minutes, the water should be changed, and the meat should be cooked right away. The defrosting of frozen meat can be aided by specific settings on some microwaves. If using a microwave, cook the meat right away after it has defrosted.
Never thaw meat at room temperature in the open, whether on a counter or in the sink. At room temperature, bacteria can quickly multiply, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many experts advise against refreezing raw meat after it has defrosted properly unless it has been cooked first. The main goal of this is to avoid texture and quality loss.
The quality of defrosted raw meat may suffer due to moisture loss, but it is still technically safe to freeze it again.
The meat will produce more ice crystals within its cells if it is defrosted and then refrozen. These ice crystals cause microscopic tissue damage in the meat, which can alter the flavor and consistency of the meat.
The quality of the meat may significantly change after defrosting and refreezing it twice. Depending on how dry it is, the texture of the meat may change.
Foods that have been thoroughly cooked after defrosting are safe to freeze.
Meat can theoretically be preserved indefinitely by freezing it at 0°F (-18°C), according to the FDATrusted Source. After a while, the meat’s quality could deteriorate, and extremely long freeze times might result in observable changes to the meat’s quality and flavor. To ensure that they are still of high quality when thawed out to eat, different types of meat have different storage times.
According to the type of meat, the sections that follow describe how long to freeze it:
In general, fresh meat has the longest shelf life and can keep its quality the longest in the freezer.
- Raw ground beef: 3 to 4 months
- 3–4 months for raw ground turkey, veal, pork, or lamb
Fresh veal, lamb, pork, and beef
- 6 to 12 months for steak
- 4–12 months for roasts
- 4-6 months for chops
- 3–4 months for additional cuts like liver, tongue, and chitterlings.
- 1 month for bacon
- 1-2 months for raw sausage
raw chicken or turkey is considered poultry.
- Whole: 12 months
- 9-month parts
- 3–4 months for giblets
Shellfish and fish
- 6 to 8 months for lean fish.
- Fish with fat: 2–3 months
- Fresh squid and shellfish: 3-6 months
In many cases, processing, cooking, or smoking the meat greatly reduces this time because it will lose quality if it is frozen again.
As some flavors oxidize and degrade after cooking, even in the freezer, refreezing cooked meats may also ruin the meat’s flavor.
- 1-2 months for hot dogs
- Lunch meats: one to two months
- 1-2 months for ham (whole, half, or slices).
- Corned beef: 1 month (drained)
- Products made of smoked sausage: 1-2 months
- Beef, veal, lamb, and pork leftovers last for two to three months.
- 2-3 months for stews with meat, broth, and gravy.
chicken or turkey that has been cooked
- Count: 4 months
- 6 months in gravy
- 4 months fried
- Patties or nuggets: 1-3 months
Shellfish and fish
- Fish cooked: 4-6 months
- Fish smoked for two months
- Fish in a can (out of the can): two months
Meat can be stored and kept from going bad by freezing. The recommended storage conditions are based on the quality and flavor of the meat itself because fresh meat can theoretically be kept indefinitely if stored at the proper temperature. Additionally, taking safety precautions lowers the likelihood of spoilage. Storage times can vary because some freezers may not be able to maintain a temperature that is consistently low enough. People should avoid any meat that looks or smells off, even after following the proper safety and storage procedures.