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Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Here’s How Long Frozen Meat Actually Lasts, According to a Food Scientist

Canned food is easy to understand: It’s good until its expiration date, simple as that. But not all food can be so low-maintenance—especially meat. Most of it keeps for a few days in the fridge, but when it comes time to store it in the freezer, things can get confusing fast.
Before you freeze anything, though, it’s imperative that perishable food stays at a temperature lower than 40°F when stored or higher than 140°F if it’s being served hot, says Betty Feng, Ph.D., assistant professor of food science at Purdue University. Anything in between is known as the “danger zone,” per the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), since bacteria grow most rapidly in that range of temperatures.
“Leftovers can only stay on the counter for two hours before you have to put them in the refrigerator,” Feng says. Make sure that any meats or prepared foods make it into the fridge within that timeframe.
Now, when you’re ready to start freezing meat, Feng says that the USDA’s cold food storage chart is the best, most accessible resource for ensuring that you’re keeping food at its peak quality. The chart recommends refrigeration and freezing guidelines for the most common types of meats and leftovers (yes, including your meat lover’s pizza).

So, how long is frozen meat good for?

Technically, any food stored at 0°F will be “safe” indefinitely—but it has to be stored at 0°F consistently. However, the quality will suffer the longer it stays in the freezer. The meats with the most longevity include steaks, roasts, and a whole chicken or turkey, which can all last up to one year. On the other end of the spectrum, processed meats like bacon and hot dogs are the least freezer-friendly, staying good for only up to a month in the icebox. Check out the guidelines below:
  • Bacon: 1 month
  • Hot dogs: 1–2 months
  • Lunch meat: 1–2 months
  • Pizza: 1–2 months
  • Sausage: 1–2 months
  • Chicken nuggets or patties: 1–3 months
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, etc.): 2–3 months
  • Soups and stews: 2–3 months
  • Ground meat: 3–4 months
  • Cooked meat or poultry: 2–6 months
  • Lean fish (halibut, haddock, etc.): 6–8 months
  • Chicken or turkey pieces: 9 months
  • Chops: 4–12 months
  • Roasts: 4–12 months
  • Steaks: 4–12 months
  • Whole chicken or turkey: 1 year

    But why do certain foods only last for a certain time period—even when they’re frozen?

    Blame it on bacteria. “Many people think, ‘I put the food in the freezer, so the bacteria won’t grow,’” Feng says. “That’s the wrong perception because home freezing is usually not powerful enough to kill bacteria.”
    The benefit of freezing is that low temperatures slow the growth of bacteria, making it safer than refrigeration over long periods of time. When anything comes out of the freezer, Feng advises to cook or reheat it to at least 165°F all the way through, which will make your meal safe to eat. You should also use a thermometer to make sure that your fridge is below 40°F and your freezer is at 0°F, according to Feng.
    Figuring out if something has been in the freezer for too long is deceptively hard, however. You can’t rely on looks, smell, or even taste to determine if a frozen product has gone bad, Feng says. “The best practice is to write down when you put food in the refrigerator or freezer,” she says, either by labeling food with a marker when it goes in or keeping a list nearby.
    Another tip from Feng: Print out the USDA’s cold food storage chart and stick it your fridge so you’ll never have to remember how long certain products last.

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