Frozen Meats: How Long Can They Be Stored?

The freezer is a perfect ally in our daily life. Having frozen meats gets us out of a lot of trouble and solves the lack of time to shop everyday.
Frozen Meats: How Long Can They Be Stored?

Last update: 04 April, 2021

We all know that fresh meat is a very perishable food. Having frozen meats allows us to extend their shelf life while maintaining their quality and nutrients. However, we must take into account some important aspects that will allow us to enjoy the quality of a good piece of meat for a longer period of time.

Freezing preserves food for extended periods of time because it prevents the growth of pathogenic microorganisms that can cause spoilage or illness. Thus, frozen foods can last a long time in the freezer without spoiling.

However, there are always limits. It’s important to understand that, even when frozen, food doesn’t last forever.

How long do frozen meats last?

A person picking up a cut of beef.
Both before and after freezing, you need to be aware of some aspects so that frozen meats aren’t damaged.

The time that food lasts in the freezer varies greatly, depending on the type of food. Frozen meats usually last less time than vegetables, for example.

One of the main reasons why freezing times are different is the amount of fat present in each type of meat. We’ll tell you the average times that different types of frozen meats can last in the freezer:

  • Very fatty meat and sausages will last in the freezer for 1 to 2 months.
  • Hamburgers and other preparations with fresh minced meat, from 3 to 4 months.
  • If we’re talking about veal chops and fresh lamb and pork, we can freeze them for 4 to 12 months.
  • Chicken, turkey, and other poultry meat can withstand 9 to 12 months in the freezer.

With low temperatures, we stop bacterial growth, but not oxidation reactions. And, although it happens slowly, the rancidity process of the fat continues.

This persistence of the process by which the food becomes rancid is one of the main causes of the loss of the nutritional value of meats.

An article in the journal Food Science and Technology states just that. The rancidity process affects the flavor, texture, and colors of frozen meats. Although we don’t notice it at first glance, we must know that it’ll happen at some point if we don’t use the meat.

Find out more: Frozen Food: Everything You Should Know

Tips for keeping meat quality intact

A woman looking at her freezer.
Tidying up the refrigerator is highly recommended for easy access to the food.

To maintain the quality of frozen meats and prevent losing part of their nutritional value, we must take into account some small tips that will help us to maximize their good condition:

  • Set the freezer at the right temperature, as it helps the meat freeze more quickly.
  • Vacuum seal frozen foods: They should be wrapped in film or in suitable containers. Otherwise, they run the risk of losing water, absorbing bad odors, drying out, or burning.
  • Freezing meat in packages or small portions: When we freeze very large pieces, the center of the product takes longer to freeze and loses quality. In addition, ice crystals can form in the food which, when thawed, break its structures and spoil its characteristics.
  • Separate visible fat from the pieces: As we’ve seen, freezing doesn’t stop the rancidity of fats and could spoil them.
  • Freeze cooked meat or meat stews in airtight plastic or glass containers: We should wait until they’re cold before putting them in the freezer.

If you want to keep your freezer from becoming a mess, it’s important to label the content and the freeze date on each package, as well as to try to keep things organized. That way, you’ll avoid having to discard meat that may have been hidden and is no longer in good shape when you find it.

Knowing how to defrost properly

It’s just as important to pay attention to the freezing conditions of meat as this will help us to know how to defrost them correctly. It’ll be useless to have preserved the meat well only to spoil it when it comes to defrosting.

Frozen meats should be thawed cold. It’s not a good idea to leave them at room temperature or near a heat source to accelerate the process.

This can encourage the growth of health-pathogenic bacteria, according to research published in the journal Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases.

The best way to thaw frozen meat is to leave them in the refrigerator for about 24 hours. Or, if you didn’t plan ahead, you can use the defrost function on your microwave.

What you do have to keep in mind is that once defrosted, the meat should be cooked immediately. When it approaches temperatures close to between 39 and 43 degrees, the bacteria that may have been present before freezing begin to multiply.

If, once cooked, you see that you’re not going to consume it right away, you can refreeze the cooked pieces of meat. But never refreeze a raw food that has been defrosted.

Use freezing to increase the shelf life of meat

If you want to enjoy quality frozen meat, you’re much better off buying fresh meat and freezing it yourself. You can make a larger purchase of meat and freeze it following the tips we’ve discussed above. You’ll always be more able to control the quality of the product better than if you buy meat that’s already frozen.

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  • Amaral A.B et al. Lipid oxidation in meat: mechanisms and protective factors: a review. Food science and technology. Diciembre 2018. 38(1).
  • Haselbeck AH., Panzner U., Im J., Baker S., et al., Current perspectives on invasive nontyphoidal salmonella disease. Curr Opin Infect Dis, 2017. 30 (5): 498-503.