How Long Can Meat be Stored in Freezer?
Different kinds of meat at how long each lasts
It’s wintertime and each week I find myself digging around in the freezer to see what I should unthaw. Beef, venison, and assorted fishes I caught over the summer. Harvesting your own meat is a great life skill, but properly butchering and storing it for future consumption is a skill itself.
Maybe you just took a deer, split a cow with your family, or shot hogs out of a helicopter. Regardless, you now have excess meat destined for the freezer.
How long can you keep the meat in there?
According to foodsafety.gov and USDA if you keep meat frozen at 0° F or -18° C or lower it will be safe to eat indefinitely if it is stored in an air-tight container. Yeast, mold, and bacteria become inactive at those frozen temperatures. Frozen meat can lose taste quality over time and different meats keep longer than others
Let's look at the different types of meat and how long you can freeze it.
Recommendations for Freezing Different Kinds of Meat
From my personal experience, frozen meat will stay good for a long time if frozen correctly. I’ve had meat keep well over a year taste perfectly fine once thawed out and cooked. (Might have to put a little extra seasoning on it to cover up the freezer taste after a year or two.)
Ultimately, freezer burn won't hurt you and can be removed. If stored poorly or too long quality will diminish. Here is the timeline for meat in the freezer:
Now, let's dive a little deeper into each of these and talk about the details of freezing them for long periods of time.
According to the FDA you can freeze these for up to a year but if you cut them into pieces like breasts, thighs, and wings they should be consumed within nine months.
Chicken and Turkey can be stored longer if the whole bird is frozen. The idea is that once you start cutting up the bird you have more bacteria from hands, knives, and cutting boards touching the pieces. That bacteria doesn't die in freezing temperatures which can lead to a slimy texture once thawed.
Beef including veal and lamb can easily last months in the freezer. Raw steaks can last a long time, up to or past 12 months. Ground beef I've stored for a year or more but the government recommends under 12 months for the highest quality. Worth noting if the beef is cooked and seasoned, it won’t last as long as the quality will diminish quicker.
It’s also good to cut off the excess fat similar to like you would with venison. Not necessary, but fat can lead to freezer burn due to holding moisture even inside vacuum seal bags. Leaner meat stores longer.
Venison is a leaner meat than beef and pork which means it lasts longer in the freezer. I would cut off the fat to make sure it is stored with the smallest chance of spoilage or freezer burn possible. It can also reduce some of the "gamey" taste when you thaw it out.
To make the most of your venison, it's a good idea to invest in vacuum freezer bags to ensure there is little to no air in the packaging.
Uncooked pork has similar timelines to beef and lamb with 6 to 12 months but if it is processed into bacon, sausage, hotdogs, or ham, then don’t freeze it for more than one to three months. The processed version of pork lends itself to freezer burn and quality deteriorates over time.
Freezing duck and Goose is similar to chicken but may not last as long due to the fat content. They can be a little fattier than landfowl so the best quality is within 6 months of being frozen. The same rule applies for freezing whole vs. cutting into pieces. It will last longer if the whole bird is frozen. It can also last longer if you take the skin off as much of the fat and oil is stored there.
Lean fish well steak good in the freezer longer than fatty fish. Common lean fish our best tilapia tuna and cod. While fatty fish are more like salmon sardines and anchovies. They don’t stay as good and quality decreases significantly after three months of being frozen.
Freezing Ground Meat
Ground meat should be frozen within a few days of purchasing it if you aren't going to cook it. Ground meat is safe to eat for up to a year, but the quality diminishes quicker, so better to eat it between 3 and 6 months of being frozen.
Be Aware of Fatty Meat
Fatty meat holds moisture and can oxidize in the freezer no matter how well you packaged it. Waterfowl with skin on it, sausage, ground meat with pork fat for example.
Fatty meat doesn't freeze as well as lean meat. Oxidized meat can go rancid which you will be able to tell with your nose, especially after thawing.
Freezing Meat the Right Way
From my experience and research, there are little things you can do that make a difference in the long-term freshness of frozen meat.
For instance, ensure that your hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards are spotless before you start cutting, processing, and bagging meat.
Next, confirm that your freezer is reaching 0° F or -18° C or lower. Otherwise, you may start to see, and smell rotten, rancid meat. I had a friend who shot a pig, threw it in the freezer, and it was a few degrees above freezing for a couple of days while the power was out. That left his house smelling like a pig carcass for weeks. It was a horrible smell, take my word for it. Check your freezer temperature.
Another word to the wise is to keep your meat sealed in an airtight bag that is moisture and vapor-resistant material meant for freezers. Light, oxygen, and excess moisture touching the meat can lead to freezer burn.
Don't just throw it in a Ziploc bag. There is a difference between freezer plastic and regular Ziploc plastic. Vacuum bags get all the air out of the package to keep meat safer and prevent freezer burn.
Also, avoid wax paper. The wax can break down over time and is tough to keep airtight.
Lastly, make sure to label your meat with the date you froze it and the date it was harvested or bought.
Does Meat Lose Nutritional Value being Frozen?
Apparently, meat does not lose nutritional value by being frozen. It’s not exactly as good as fresh (it can’t be), but freezing meat can preserve nutrients for long periods of time.
How does Meat get Freezer-Burned?
When air and moisture seep into your frozen packages that causes freezer burn. Either you packaged it with moisture inside, or, there was a puncture in the packaging that allowed moisture content to enter the bag.
Usually, the damage is contained to the outer layer of the meat only penetrating a quarter-inch (unless it's been frozen for years then it might be more).
Can you eat freezer-burned meat?
Yes, it might taste funny but you can. Obviously avoid bad, rotten smells and green coloration. If you decide it's safe to eat, You want to make sure to unthaw it properly by putting it in the fridge or bowl of cold water before preparing.
Don't do warm water or microwave. The warm water can bring frozen bacteria back to life and the microwave can amplify the nastiness. Slow down the unthawing process.
Freezer burn essentially dries the meat out, so you can trim off the freezer-burned sections and brine the meat to try and bring it back to life.
How to Tell if Frozen Meat is Bad
If you are freezing meet for long periods of time, you will have to keep an eye out for a few things such as color changes (grey, leathery outside), crystals inside the packaging, weird odors, and or change in textures. For example, meat might be slimy when you thaw it out which is not a good sign. Don’t eat that.
Freezing meat does not kill micro-organisms and bacteria that may have been on the food before freezing. They do become inactive at freezing temps but still exist.
In conclusion, store meat in airtight bags at 0° F or -18° C and make sure to check on your stockpile from time to time. Put the dates on the packaging so you know when you should eat it.