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How Long will Frozen Meat Stay Fresh?

By O. Wallace
Updated May 16, 2024
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Anyone who eats meat knows that there may be lurking within it, at a microscopic level, millions of microbes that are multiplying at a furious rate. Their goal is to enter our bodies and wreak havoc on our digestive systems. Microbes such as botulism, E. coli, listeria and salmonella are some of the most feared of the many potential bacteria, parasites, molds and yeasts that causes meat to decay and humans to get sick. Freezing is the safest way to store meat to consume at a later time.

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, it is best to freeze meat at 0°F (-17.78°C) for safety reasons. If frozen meat is stored at a constant temperature of 0°F, it should be safe to eat. Although freezing meat doesn’t kill the microbes that can cause foodborne illnesses, it slows their growth by forcing them into dormancy. Some parasites however, are killed at sub-zero temperatures, although home freezing cannot guarantee this.

To freeze meat, it is a good idea to repack meat from store packaging or to put another layer of wrapping over it for optimal storage and to prevent freezer burn. Freezer burn, while not dangerous, impacts frozen meat in both taste and consistency. For long-term storage, it is best to keep frozen meat in a separate freezer unit, as the freezer section in a refrigerator is opened frequently on a daily basis. This makes it difficult to maintain the optimal temperature to store frozen meat.

Once frozen meat is thawed, the microbes come back to life and continue their life’s work, which is to multiply and consume. The safest way to defrost frozen meat is in the fridge, the microwave or a bowl of cold water. A rule of thumb for defrosting frozen meat in the fridge is to allow one day for every five pounds (2.27 kilograms). Defrosted meat is safe to refreeze as long as it was thawed in the refrigerator. If there is a power outage, frozen meat should remain safe for approximately two days in a closed, full freezer and one day in a half-full, closed freezer.

Theoretically, when meat is frozen correctly and maintained at the optimal freezing temperature, it should stay good forever. However, it is hard to guarantee, particularly with home freezing, that the meat will remain safe and of good quality for eating. The following is a list of how long most meats can be frozen and maintain a high quality.

  • Bacon or sausage: one to two months
  • Ham, hot dogs or cold cuts: two to three months
  • Raw roasts, steaks or chops: four to twelve months
  • Raw ground meat: three to four months
  • Cooked meat: two to three months
  • Raw, whole poultry: one to two months
  • Raw poultry parts: nine months
  • Cooked poultry: four months
  • Raw, wild game: eight to twelve months
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Discussion Comments
By anon970558 — On Sep 19, 2014

Why would anyone take a chance of getting food poisoning? When in doubt, toss it out.

By anon947858 — On Apr 27, 2014

I have a box of new york strip steaks in my freezer with a date of May, 2012. Are they safe to eat? They have good color and have never been thawed out.

By anon342378 — On Jul 20, 2013

We have a suckling pig stored in our freezer for seven months already. Is it still safe to cook?

By anon299895 — On Oct 27, 2012

Thanks for this very informative article. It gives me insight in my everyday cooking and to buy the fresh meat, etc., to store in my freezer and in my fridge. It is some sort of a great saving of time, money, etc. I like reading this article so much!

By anon157926 — On Mar 05, 2011

can anyone suggest about seafood?

By anon148155 — On Jan 31, 2011

Wrap meat in double cellophane tightly with no air, then wrap in freezer paper tightly and tape up good with no air leaks. If wrapped properly and never allowed to thaw and kept as close to zero meat should be safe to eat for many years. I eat two year old beef, elk and deer all the time. Always tastes as good as when I first put it in the freezer.

I have some seven year old elk meat I've been going to make into jerky and never got around to it. Think I'm still going to eat it. Heard rumors that meat starts to lose nutritional value after being in the freezer too long. Would like to know if that's true.

By anon145479 — On Jan 23, 2011

I just found this roast in my freezer and according to the best before date it was bad almost three years ago, but I figure that it still looks pretty good and really I live in Canada, we have free health care.

By anon140363 — On Jan 07, 2011

I had two vacuum packed fillet steaks hidden in the back of my freezer for two years. No freezer burn. When cooked, they were the best steaks I had ever tasted.

I have also cooked a chicken that was stored for a year. It didn't taste as good, and had that 'been in the freezer too long' smell and taste. However, I would not throw anything out, always cook it - at least to make soup!

By anon136620 — On Dec 23, 2010

can you freeze sausages in bacon for Christmas once cooked.

By anon136094 — On Dec 21, 2010

I bought chicken fillets from the butcher and kept them in the top compartment of the fridge for two days after which i put them in the freezer. I defrosted them later to cook. Is this dangerous? Should i have put it straight into the freezer section? Why don't butchers have to put a use by date on the meat they sell?

By anon135271 — On Dec 17, 2010

I think those are rules of thumb. I buy half a beef every year and at the end of the year the meat still tastes fine. The ground beef is slightly less 'fresh' tasting, but still good.

By anon124089 — On Nov 04, 2010

I'm going to eat some farmer john maple sausage stored in the original packaging that's been frozen with an use or freeze by date of December 2009. I'll let you know what happens.

By anon122793 — On Oct 29, 2010

Is a pack of hot dogs whose sell by date is August 24, 2010 safe to eat if the package was never opened and the freezer was about 10 degrees F or lower?

By anon119935 — On Oct 19, 2010

Cooked up a chuck pot roast tonight that had been in the freezer for five months, in its original store wrapper with the nappie. Wasted fresh garden carrots and potatoes, as the meat tastes very odd - if one can say it "tastes" at all.

I haven't ever had this happen before, and think the meat may have been very poor to begin with. But kicking myself about the prized garden vegetables wasted - not to mention the electricity usage.

By anon110976 — On Sep 14, 2010

how long can you keep gammon joints in the freezer? i have had one in my freezer now for nine months. will it be safe to OK and it once defrosted?

By anon86170 — On May 24, 2010

i want to know if I can eat mutton six months after freezing it in my home refrigerator. --salina

By anon82969 — On May 08, 2010

I have a beef ribeye frozen since February of 2009. Can we still eat this meat?

By anon80995 — On Apr 29, 2010

i took out carne asada and defrosted it on the counter top last night. is it still good to cook and eat today if i put it back in the fridge after defrosting?

By tami — On Mar 13, 2010

I kept chicken meat frozen for more than six months. is it OK to be cooked and consumed?

By anon69805 — On Mar 10, 2010

So if I have chicken parts that have been frozen for a year, I should throw them out?

By anon60396 — On Jan 13, 2010

how long can you keep cooked sausage once defrosted?

--tony

By anon57523 — On Dec 23, 2009

I just pulled a cryovac packaged whole spiral cut smoked ham from the freezer that I got directly from the maker in florida at least three years ago. It has been at approx -5 to -10 for all that time. Ice had accumulated on the packaging. I believe that since it is an airtight package it should be Very good. It is a $50 to $70 whole ham.

By anon56398 — On Dec 14, 2009

I have had some beef and pork in my freezer for two years. Is it okay to cook and eat it?

By anon43146 — On Aug 26, 2009

MissAnnie, Just to let you know that any frozen meat under '0' degrees once defrosted must be eaten within 3 months after which the meat gets contaminated even if you do not view with the naked eye.

Do not believe butchers etc. Live healthy!

Regards, Saalim

By anon39423 — On Aug 01, 2009

I heard that once we freeze the chicken or meat without washing it and after removing it from freezer if we wash and cooked it for frozen purpose. Can it cause cancer? Or its bad for health?

By anon34204 — On Jun 18, 2009

I don't believe that it is advised to refreeze defrosted meat.. Once it's defrosted you must cook it within a few days.

By anon23650 — On Dec 30, 2008

well, geez, your article was very helpful. But you didn't mention fish!! How long can fish stay frozen and still be safe to eat?!

By tgo215 — On Aug 19, 2008

I have heard that meat frozen at 0 degrees will last forever. I just found some t-bone steak in my deep freezer. The date is 2003, that's 5 years! Do I dare eat them?

By MissAnnie — On Mar 06, 2008

My girlfriend just raised a steer for us and it was butchered at a butcher shop - aged and properly packaged. We are being told that the meat will stay good for 2 years frozen - by my friend and the butcher. The butcher even says that after that, he will trim off the freezer burn and there's still good healthy meat there. I can't verify this. Can you?

MissAnnie

By malena — On Jan 24, 2008

I thought that frozen meats in my freezer that had the frost or ice around the meat meant that it went bad! But now I see that while it may mean that it went bad in terms of taste, it doesn't mean that it went bad in terms of health! This will save me so much money in wasted food! Thanks!

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