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Frozen Meat Facts - Storing, Handling, Defrosting

Posted by Julia Smith on

Vacuum packed frozen meat

A lot of people think that "fresh" meat out of a grocery store display case is the freshest way to buy meat. We'd like you to think again :)

When you buy "fresh" meat at the grocery store, you have no idea how long it has been sitting in that display case. However long it is, I can assure you that it has been sitting there a LOT longer than our meat did before it was vacuum sealed and frozen quickly to preserve the meat at it's absolute peak of freshness.

 

Frozen Food Safety

Freezing kills parasites and prevents the growth of microorganisms that cause both food spoilage and food borne illness so food that is kept constantly frozen will always be safe to eat. Only quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage. Once frozen food is thawed, these microbes can again become active so you should treat defrosted food as you would any perishable food. 

Freshness & Quality

Not surprisingly, the freshness and quality at the time of freezing will be reflected in the condition of the frozen food. We freeze our meat immediately after our butcher cuts it. It doesn't sit in a display cooler for a few days before going into the freezer. We vacuum seal it in small portions that freeze really quickly in our commercial freezer before large ice crystals can form. This combination of fast freezing, packing in an oxygen free environment and dark, cold storage ensures that our meat will keep at top quality for at least two years.

Physical Changes

Meat that has been deprived of oxygen will become darker. It can also have a funny smell when the package is first opened. This smell is in no way an indication that there is a problem with the meat. It is known as "confinement odour" and is a result of the vacuum sealing process. After a few minutes, the smell will disappear and the colour will return to normal. 

Nutrient Retention

Freezing does not affect the nutrient value of meat and poultry products.

Packaging

Proper packaging helps maintain quality and prevent freezer burn. We vacuum seal all our meat to ensure the highest quality and prevent freezer burn. But it is perfectly safe to eat meat that has been freezer burned. It is strictly a quality issue. 

Freezer Storage Times

Because frozen food is safe to eat almost indefinitely, recommended storage times are for quality only. Following are recommended storage times for storage in home freezers:

Item Regular Vacuum Packed
Steaks 6-12 months 2-3 years
Chops 4-6 months 2-3 years
Poultry, whole 1 year 2-3 years
Poultry, parts 9 months 2-3 years
Bacon 1 month 1 year
Sausage 1-2 months 1-2 years
Soups & Stews 2-3 months 1-2 years
Ground Meat  3-4 months 1-2 years

 

Thawing Frozen Meat

There are two ways to thaw meat safely without compromising quality: in the refrigerator or in cold water. Microwaves are safe but often make a real mess of your meat so we don't recommend it. Most small items (like steaks or a package of sausages) will thaw in the fridge overnight. Larger items like a whole chicken or a turkey will take longer. Plan one one full day for every 5 pounds of weight. 

Once defrosted, poultry, fish and ground meat will keep safely in the fridge for 1-2 days. Beef, pork, lamb, etc will keep in the fridge for 3-5 days after thawing. 

Defrosting with cold running water is much faster but does waste a lot of water so try to plan ahead and use the fridge. Plan on 30 minutes per pound using this method. 

Cooking without Thawing

In a pinch, you can cook meat from frozen. It will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for cooking fresh or fully thawed meat.

Refreezing Meat

It is safe to refreeze meat that was defrosted in the fridge as long as it is refrozen within the above noted safe thaw timelines. Meat defrosted with cold water should be cooked before refreezing. The concern with regards to refreezing meat is a quality issue, not a safety issue. After thawing, there will be moisture lost (unless the meat is vacuum sealed) which can compromise quality upon refreezing. 

Frozen Seafood
For tips and guidelines for seafood, please check out this information from our friends at Skipper Otto's.

 

Buying well-packaged and properly frozen meat is an excellent way to ensure both quality and food safety. If you have a bit of freezer storage space, buying frozen also allows you take advantage of volume discounts. It takes a little bit of planning and organization to ensure that your meat is thawed when you want to cook it, but planning and organization can also help you save money and reduce food waste so the benefits make it all worthwhile. 

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