Have you ever gone to the freezer, reached deep into it and pulled out some meat? You’re not sure when you put it in the freezer, but you do know it’s been months. Is it still good? How do you tell? Will you get sick if you eat it?
I know I’ve been in this situation, and then I have to search the internet to figure out the status of my meat. It turns into quite the goose chase that ends in still not being sure if the meat’s good, and I am still at a loss of whether or not I should even eat it. The good news is, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how long meat can be frozen, how to properly freeze meat, how to thaw and some tell tale signs your meat may have gone bad. By the end of this article, you will be able to confidently determine the safety of your frozen meat and have some tools to keep your meat in tip-top condition.
Meat Freezing Supplies
How long can meat be frozen? Can you eat 2 year old frozen meat?
Here is the thing: if meat stays at zero degrees or below, it will stay good for an indefinite amount of time. This is assuming you’ve not had a power outage or an incorrect temperature reading in your freezer. Now, consuming meat that’s been in the freezer for an unknown amount of time does not mean it will taste great nor be free of freezer burn, but it does mean it’s safe. On the other hand, this is not suggested for the best flavor. Below are the suggested timelines for common types of uncooked proteins to be stored in the freezer.
- Chicken – 9 to 12 months
- Ground Meat – 3 to 4 months
- Red Meat – 4 to 12 months (this is a really big range, so I’d suggest shooting for 8-10 months)
- Bacon and Sausage – 1 to 2 months
The good news is, if your freezer stays at the correct temperature, you’re good to go, but if you want prime flavor and quality meat make sure to write the date you put it in the freezer and follow the suggested timelines above.
(If I did not list the type of meat you are freezing, look on the USDA’s website for the recommended amount of time. Six months is also a good guideline to use.)
Deep Freezer vs. Stand up Freezer
Is there any difference in the amount of time meat can stay frozen between a deep freezer or a stand-up freezer, and will the quality be affected? The simple answer is no. The type of freezer is less important than the quality of the freezer. As long as your freezer maintains the correct temperature, you will have the same result. If you’re uncertain about the temperature in your freezer, this thermometer is a great option to use.
While you will get the same results from a deep freezer or a stand-up freezer, there are a couple factors that could make a deep freezer a bit more reliable and desirable than a stand-up freezer. Because a deep freezer is larger, there is more space for storage and less air flow compared to its counterpart meaning less chance of freezer burn. The deep freezer also has a better chance of keeping your food cold if you ever have an electrical outage. It’s also great because of how much space it has. If you have a large family, having frozen food on hand is a definite plus.
The downside to a deep freezer is simply its size. Not everyone has space for a deep freezer nor the need to store that much food. In that case, the stand up freezer is the perfect choice. Just make sure to store your meat towards the back of your freezer to reduce the air flow and the chance of temperature change from opening and closing the freezer door.
How to Properly Store and Freeze Meat
The biggest fear of storing meat in the freezer is the risk of freezer burn. Freezer burn happens when the meat has been exposed to oxygen in the freezer, and it dries it out leaving tell-tale white spots on your food. Luckily, there is a way to avoid this, but it does require a little extra effort when you are preparing your meat for storage.
- First, wrap your meat in plastic wrap or freezer paper making sure to wrap it tightly and avoid air pockets. Remember, air is the enemy.
- Now, wrap it in aluminum foil. This may seem excessive, but you can thank me later when you pull your meat out without any trace of freezer burn.
- Finally, place the meat in a sealable bag and put it in the freezer making sure to write the date on the bag with a marker.
- If you’d rather skip steps 2 and 3, simply place your wrapped meat in a vacuum sealable bag, seal it and write the date on it. Doing these two steps will also help avoid freezer burn.
This may seem like a lot of wrapping and packaging, but it is a great way to ensure fresh meat and avoid freezer burn. It really only takes a few minutes to ensure great meat when you need it! Also, I suggest avoid using any kind of container to freeze meat. It may seal well outside the freezer but the cold temperature can cause leaks in the seal, and in my own experience sealable bags tend to do a better job preserving food.
How to Thaw Meat
When you’re thawing meat, the best and safest way is to plan ahead. There are quick ways, but the slowest is the best option. Again, I referenced the USDA for the best methods to thaw meat, and they are in the fridge, in cold water or in the microwave.
- In the Fridge – This is the best option, and it’s also the safest. I suggest transferring your meat from your freezer to the fridge the night before you need to cook the meat. Now, if you’re planning on cooking a larger piece of meat, you WILL need more time. You can estimate about a day for every five pounds of meat. That means you need a few days for that Thanksgiving turkey.
- Cold Water – A quicker way to thaw your meat is in cold water. You put your meat into a plastic sealable bag, submerge the bag in cold water and let it thaw. Make sure to change the water often in order to keep it cold. Cook the meat once it’s thawed. You don’t want to leave the meat at room temperature for very long because this can allow bacteria to grow. Even though using cold water takes more time than warm, warm water can cause the outer layer of the meat to enter the “danger zone” between 40° and 140° Fahrenheit which is something you want to avoid.
- Microwave – The quickest method and most controversial is to thaw your meat in the microwave. Every microwave typically has a setting for thawing meat, so follow the instructions for your specific model. There is a bit of controversy out there when it comes to microwaves, so this may not be the option for you. The reason many people do not suggest using the microwave is the same reason you shouldn’t use warm water. It can cause the outside of the meat to cook quicker, entering that danger zone and staying there, while the rest of the meat still needs to thaw.
The best option is to always plan ahead and use the fridge method when possible.
How Long can Meat stay in Fridge
Another common question is how long will meat stay good in the fridge. I decided to tackle this in two ways by addressing cooked and uncooked. This is the suggested timeline, but if your meat ever looks questionable toss it. Better safe than sorry for you and your family.
- Chicken – 3-4 days
- Ham – 1 week
- Steaks or Chops – 3-5 days
- Fish – 3-4 days
With uncooked it’s always best to reference the sell-by or use-by date as well.
- Chicken – 1-2 days
- Bacon – 1 week
- Ground Beef – 1-2 days
- Steaks or Chops – 5 days
- Fish – 1-2 days
Keeping Meat in the Freezer for Years
Now that we’e tackled storing and thawing meat, let’s return to the original question: is it safe to eat 2 year old frozen meat? Technically, yes, it is. As long as your freezer stays at the appropriate temperature, you can eat that meat. Would I advise it? Probably not, but then again the freezer is a magical tool. It stops time in the world of food and allows you to have that same fresh flavor months after purchasing the meat. As long as you are storing your meat properly and following suggested guidelines for time in the freezer, you will be completely satisfied with your meat.