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How long can I safely freeze meat?

Using the freezer is an excellent option for safely storing meat for longer, and is a method that many of us choose to use. However, although you should take care when freezing any type of food and drink, it is necessary to be particularly cautious when freezing meat to ensure you can enjoy it safely when you are ready to cook.

If you are wondering, 'How long can I safely freeze meat?', these guidelines will answer that question and also offer helpful tips on retaining its quality during the freezing process.

How long can I freeze meat?

To enjoy meat at its best, it is recommended that it should be eaten within 3-6 months of freezing. However, NHS guidelines confirm that it is safe to eat meat that has been frozen for longer, but the quality will deteriorate with time1. In general, if a cut of meat is larger, you can freeze it and enjoy it for longer. Below is some more specific guidance for commonly used types of meat2.

Chicken and Turkey

If you have the space, whole chickens and turkeys can be safely stored in the freezer for up to a year, according to the guidelines issued by the FDA2. Portions of poultry, such as breasts, drumsticks, thighs or wings, can last for up to 9 months.

Beef, Lamb and Pork

You can freeze larger joints of beef, lamb or pork for up to 12 months. This includes roasting joints and even steaks. Smaller cuts, such as chops are best used within 4 months.

Mince, Stewing and Burger Meat

This type of meat has the shortest freezer life and to retain its quality is best used within 3-4 months.

Cooked Leftover Meat

As well as freezing fresh meat, you can also safely freeze and enjoy leftover cooked meat. If you cook in batches, this is a great time-saver, allowing you to have your own ready-meals waiting for you when required.

Cooked meat dishes do not last as long in the freezer. It is recommended that beef, lamb and pork dishes are used within 2-3 months, with cooked chicken dishes to be used within 4-6 months.

How to store meat in the freezer

When preparing meat to freeze, like other food and drink, it is important to ensure it is properly wrapped. Its original plastic wrapping usually is sufficient, but it may be worth adding an extra layer to avoid freezer burn, which will affect the quality of the food. Label and date your meat for later reference.

When freezing cooked meats, ensure they are properly cooled before freezing. Always store raw meat away from cooked meat to avoid contamination.

Check your freezer temperature is at or below -18°C to keep all your frozen food and drink safe for consumption.

How to safely defrost meat

The safest way to defrost meat is in the refrigerator. However, doing this will take planning, as even small cuts will need at least overnight; larger joints will require a lot longer. Place meat in a bowl, as it will release liquid during thawing. Meat that has been defrosted should be used within 24 hours.

If you are short on time, meat can be defrosted using the defrost setting on a microwave. However, it must then be used straight away, as the cooking process may have already begun.

Meat that has been frozen and then thawed should not be refrozen unless it has undergone the cooking process.

Last updated: 20 April 2020

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