How to Store Meat Safely: A Complete Guide
In today's comprehensive article, How to Store Meat Safely, you'll never have to worry about taking chances or wasting your money on spoiled meat again!
If you are a meat lover, it is important to know how to protect your health by storing meat safely and correctly.
If you have invested in a Side of Beef / CSA Cow Share, we will teach you how to protect your side of beef during its time in the freezer and what to look out for.
Not only will this ensure that the beef, pork, chicken, fish, lamb or mutton you just bought doesn't go bad before you can use it, but it will also keep your family safe from food poisoning.
How Long Does Meat Last in Various Conditions?
To answer this question, you need to know that the shelf life of your meat. This is always a key factor.
1 to 3 days after the sell-by date, your fresh meat will most likely start to spoil, so make sure you always use them quickly.
How your meat was stored will be the next biggest determining factor in how long your meat will last safely i.e.
- Stored At Room Temperature
- Stored in the Fridge
- Stored in the Freezer
Storing Meat at Room Temperature
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends following the "2-hour rule" for meats, which states that you should never leave an uncovered perishable item out at room temperature for more than two hours. Discard perishables left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
Bacteria and pathogens can develop quickly at temperatures ranging from 40F to 140F degrees Fahrenheit (4C to 60C)
The warmer your surrounding environment is, the less time home cooks should keep meat out at room temperature. If you live in a hot climate with a higher room temperature of 90 F (32 C) for example, you need to discard after 1 hour.
Always remember...." When in doubt, throw it out".
Keep your meat cold by refrigerating it for both cooked and uncooked meat!
How to Store Meat Safely in the Fridge?
When it comes to keeping meat, the fridge is your best friend by far.
The key temperature threshold to keep your meat safely stored in the fridge is 38F to 40F (3.3C to 4.4C).
Always store fresh meats covered and on a separate fridge shelf from all other items,
Familiarize your fridge settings in the owner’s manual to ensure you set your temperatures correctly. It is also a good idea to periodically test the internal temperature of your fridge with a digital thermometer to ensure accuracy and safety.
Bear in mind that some cuts and varieties of ground beef can only be kept fresh for a limited period.
Most uncooked fresh meats will keep for up to 3-5 days; however, organ meats such as liver and kidney should only be kept for around two days at most.
Vacuum packaged steaks will keep in the fridge for 3 days.
Raw Suet for example will keep for 5 days maximum
Always store cooked meat like beef or lamb leftovers for example in a covered container and always a separate shelf from raw meat/raw fish which should also be in a covered container.
How To Store Meat Safely in the Freezer?
To keep your meat at its optimum in the freezer, store your meat in a sealed freezer bag and a freezer temperature set to 0 F or below (-17 C or below).
Freezing preserves meat by ensuring that any microorganisms present become dormant and in turn, prevents or slows down food deterioration
Vacuum packaged meat is ideal for long-term freezing especially for expensive steaks like Ribeye and Tenderloin as almost all air has been sucked out of the package during the packaging process.
If you purchased your meat on a tray with cling film and you don’t have sealable freezer bags or your meat is not in a vacuum pack, you can simply take the tray of meat, place it inside another plastic bag, take as much air out then tie a knot in the outer bag.
This outer layer will act to protect against freezer burn, preserve the texture, and will also extend the life of your meat in the freezer.
This simple trick is particularly good when freezing cooked steak which you intend to reheat steak at another time as the moisture and juiciness is protected.
Does Freezing Meat Effect the Quality?
Considerable research on freezing as a means of food storage over the past century to prove the following
- Freezing meat preserves all nutrients.
- Well packaged/covered meat can last well over a year in a freezer with no deterioration in quality, flavor, or texture.
How Long Can I Store Meat in The Freezer?
Well-packaged meat will last months in a freezer without sacrificing any quality.
Here is a quick guide to freezer storage times.
HOW LONG IN FREEZER
6 to 12 months
Ground Beef/Ground Pork
4 to 6 months
Chicken Parts (eg Breast, Thighs)
4 to 6 months
4 to 6 months
Fatty Fish (e.g., Salmon)
2 to 4 months
*Modern vacuum packaging techniques will keep all frozen meats at optimum for even longer than the above table.
Can You Refreeze Thawed Meat Safely?
You can safely refreeze thawed raw meats that is still cold and either covered or in it's original packaging.
Per USDA guidelines, once the meat has been thawed safely in a refrigerated environment at a temperature no higher than 40 F, this meat can be safely refrozen.
Meat that was once frozen raw then subsequently cooked, can also be safely refrozen.
Per USDA guidelines, do not refreeze meat that has been outside a refrigerator for more than 2 hours.
How to Store a Pre-Prepared Dish Safely?
According to USDA guidelines, pre-prepared cooked meats such as a rotisserie chicken, cooked roast beef or marinated cooked lamb should be consumed within 3 to 4 days if refrigerated (40°F or less).
Remember that chilling does not destroy germs but rather delays the breakdown rate. So you should still use up pre-prepared food quickly after buying it.
Historical Methods of Storing and Preserving Meat
Long before man learned how to harness ice commercially to refrigerate or freeze meat, we have been successfully preserving meats in several time-honored methods which include:
- Wind Drying
- Sun Drying
- Dry Aging
What Are the Causes of Spoiled Meat?
In simple terms, bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeasts, protozoa, and worms cause the meat to spoil and are therefore the enemy that must be avoided at all costs.
Bacteria are classified into two categories:
Pathogenic bacteria are bacteria that cause disease in humans and are generally foodborne or airborne
Spoilage bacteria are microorganisms that cause all foodstuffs to deteriorate and develop an unpleasant taste, odor, or appearance.
The bacteria and viruses that cause the most foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations in the US are:
- E. coli
- Clostridium perfringens
- Staphylococcus aureus (Staph Food Poisoning)
- Hepatitis A
- Bacillus cereus
Why You Need To Be Extra Careful Storing Ground Beef [or Any Ground Meat]
When meat is ground during processing, if there are any pathogens present on the surface, they will be mixed throughout the finished ground meat. Also, ground meat such as ground beef, ground pork, ground chicken or ground lamb has a larger surface area than steaks cuts, for example, therefore, the chances of being exposed to bacteria are increased.
4 Steps to Ensure Safe Storage of Meat
The four most important methods to ensure food safety and lowering the risk of spoiling and/or foodborne illness are as follows:
- Clean - wash hands regularly, keep utensils clean and clean surfaces regularly such as countertops and faucets.
- Separate – avoid cross-contamination with other foods such as vegetables. Use separate cutting boards, utensils, plates when preparing raw meat.
- Cooking Temperature – always cook to a safe temperature of 140F and above
- Storage – ensure your meat is stored at a safe temperature in the fridge or freezer.
Don't leave food in the Danger Zone if you don't want it to become contaminated with bacteria.
Cold food should stay stored below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and hot stuff above 140°F!
How To Tell If Meat Is Bad, Rotten, or Spoiled?
It's been in your refrigerator too long.
Don't let your ground meat spoil before you use it. The USDA recommends that any ground beef be used within one to two days, and cuts from an animal should stay in the fridge for no longer than five!
It is not recommended to freeze meat for longer than six to twelve months. After that, it can get dried out and lose its shape, making cooking more difficult when trying to re-thaw.
The texture, color, and smell seem "off."
Checking for redness is the easiest method to know whether your red meat has gone bad. High-quality, fresh beef is typically brilliant crimson or brick red. When it gets brown or grey, you need to exercise extreme caution.
Fresh Fish has no smell, and the gills and eyes are clear.
Fresh meats should have only the most subtle odors which are not off-putting in any way. Any strong odor detected from your meat means you need to dispose of the meat.
Past Sell by Date.
In the case of fresh meat, if you have gone two days beyond the sell-by date, the best practice is to dispose of the meat and not attempt to eat it.
Freezer burn detected.
Freezer burn-in of itself is not a sign of spoilage however it is an indication that your meat has not been adequately protected while in the freezer and has been in the freezer for quite a while.
Freezer burn will mean the affected cut will have lost a lot of its original tenderness and juiciness, so it is a deterioration in quality but not in its safety per se. You can easily spot freezer burn on meat as the surface of the meat will have a film of ice crystals on the affected area along with a dull pale color.
Freezer burn occurs when meat is directly exposed to frozen air in a freezer without proper protection so the cells of the meat rupture, lose their volume and liquid content (“the juice” of any cooked meat)
Always practice food safety and prepare everything before its shelf life expires!
How To Thaw Meat Safely - Normal vs. Quick Way?
Defrosting meat safely is just as important as how you store meat in the first place.
The single most safe method to thaw meat is to do so overnight in the fridge. Just place the frozen meat, in its package into a dish or bowl and let thaw slowly overnight. Ensure the defrosting meat does not drip onto any other food in the fridge.
If you are time-crunched, you can take your frozen meat, still in its package, and place it in a bowl of water. Change the water every 20 mins to ensure continual thawing.
Another trick to safely defrost meat although not so environmentally friendly is to place the meat in a bowl in your sink under a constant flow of water from the faucet.
Now that you have bought, safely stored, and defrosted meat, all that’s left now is to hunt down a great recipe to ensure your grilling and cooking are delicious.
- Man has been preserving meats for long-term storage for hundreds of years.
- All meats must be stored safely at a temperature that will keep them either refrigerated for a few days or frozen for a few months.
- Be especially careful of cooked meat which is still rare such are rare lamb.
- Use fresh meat within 2 days of its sell-by date.
- FDA guidelines are for refrigerator temperatures to be at 40F (4.4c) or below and for freezer temperatures to be at 0F (-17c) or below.
- Well-packaged meat will last months in a freezer.
- The 2 Hour Rule: Never leave the meat out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.
- The bacteria and viruses that cause the most foodborne illness in the United States include E Coli, Salmonella, Listeria, Norovirus, and Staph.
- Color and Odor are the easiest indicators that meat has spoiled but should not be relied upon solely.
- You can refreeze thawed meat once it has not been out of a refrigerated environment for more than 2 hours.