Your Questions: How long will meat last in the fridge or freezer?


| Tips & Tricks | Your Questions: How long will meat last in the fridge or freezer?

Your Questions: How long will meat last in the fridge or freezer?

A question we frequently receive from home cooks is "how long can meat be kept in the fridge or freezer?" or "how long will my leftovers last?"

Experience tells us that the fridge is at best a short-term storage solution for meat. Raw meat is good for around 5 days in the fridge, while mince will only last from between 1-2 days.

The freezer is a completely different story. Mince will keep for around 4 months, while whole cuts of beef or lamb can happily last for up to a year.

In this article, we take a look at the fridge/freezer life of beef or lamb as well as some tips for properly storing food in the fridge or freezer.

Refrigerating Meat

As we mentioned earlier, the fridge is at best a short-term storage solution for raw or cooked meat. However, they're much better than not storing it in the fridge at all.

That is because when given the moist, warm environment they like, food poisoning bacteria grow very quickly. Most harmful bacteria cannot grow at low refrigeration temperatures, so keep perishable foods cold (below 4ºC) and use them as soon as possible.

Lastly, it's a good idea to store all raw meat should be at the bottom of the fridge in a clean, sealed container to stop it from touching or dripping onto other things. Cooked meat should be wrapped or kept in a container away from raw meat.

How long can meat be kept in the freezer?

The amount of time that cooked or raw meat will happily keep in the fridge depends entirely on the cuts that we're talking about.

  • Regardless of whether they're beef or lamb, fresh (uncooked) steaks, roasts, and chops will stay fresh in the fridge for up to 5 days, on average.
  • Mince is another story entirely and will only last for one to two days when stored in the fridge.
  • Corned beef, if stored in pickling juices, can last in the fridge for five to seven days.
  • When stored in the fridge, soup can last for three to four days.
And what about leftovers?

As a rule, all perishable foods that have been opened or prepared should be thrown out after 7 days at a maximum - that includes your leftovers. If you want your leftovers to last longer, freeze them. Just be sure to keep track of how long you had it in the fridge before you put it in the freezer.

Cooked meat (along with things soups or stews and takeouts like pizza) should be eaten within 3-4 days of being placed in the fridge, while cooked meat can last between 2-6 months in the freezer (depending on what it is exactly).

Freezing Meat

The freezer can be an extremely useful tool for saving time and money when you find yourself with more than enough meat on your hands. However, freezing your protein of choice should be done carefully. It’s important to follow these guidelines to guarantee your frozen proteins are safe and enjoyable to consume.

How long can meat be kept in the freezer?

Just like with the fridge, the answer varies depending on the kind of meat. It’s important to note that to maintain the best flavour and texture in your meat, you need to freeze it at the peak of freshness. This is because it will be sitting around for a while as it thaws out.

As such, it pays to have a game plan in mind before buying meat and thinking about what you're likely to cook up over the next week. If you've got some meat on you that won't see a grill or pan for a few weeks, freeze it immediately to lock in the freshness and increase its shelf life.

It is also important to make sure temperatures don't fluctuate by more than 0.5°C. Big temperature changes can mean a partial thaw which damages the structure of the meat.

Freezer tip: write the date on your meat packaging when you freeze it. That way, there will never be a doubt as to what needs to be cooked quickly and what can wait for a bit longer.

Should I wrap meat before freezing it?

The short answer is yes. Cooked or raw meat should always be frozen in a sealed bag or airtight container. You have a few options at this point.

Butcher Paper

While some people opt for Butcher Paper, we wouldn't recommend it for anything other than meat that's being stored in the fridge, because while it will offer some protection from freezer burn, there are far better options for long-term storage.

Reusable Containers

Similarly, while reusable containers are fine for the fridge, they're not recommended for the freezer. Many plastic containers are flimsy and don't seal perfectly - and that's essential for keeping air out and maintaining freshness.

Plastic Wrap

A bit of a theme is developing here - plastic wrap is a great short-term solution but is not the best option for meat that is going to be stored in the freezer for months - you'll want something a little more robust.

Freezer Bags or Paper

Freezer bags or paper are great options for safely storing meat in the freezer.

Freezer bags are inexpensive, easy to find, and can be resued (after a good wash). They're made from a heavier plastic than sandwich bags and often come with a robust locking system.

Freezer paper is a little harder to find, and looks a lot like butcher paper but includes a thin layer of plastic on one side for locking out moisture and holding in fluids.

Vacuum Sealing

If you're looking for the ultimate freezer solution then look no further than vacuum sealing. Of all the options, it is your best protection against freezer burn and by sucking all the air out of the pouch and then heat-sealing the end you get a perfect airless environment that will help maintain the freshness of the meat the longest. The only downside is, it won't work for very large cuts of meat like brisket.

Freezing times for specific cuts
  • Whole Cuts: Frozen large cuts will keep better and longer, with less flavour change, than frozen smaller cuts. Whole cuts of beef, lamb, veal, and pork, are good for up to a year in the freezer, though you may start noticing a decline in quality after 4 months.
  • Chops: While smaller than whole cuts, chops still keep quite comfortably in the freezer, where they can last for up to six months.
  • Mince: Regardless of whether it's beef, lamb, or pork mince, you'll want to use it up before it spends 4 months in the freezer.
  • Sausages: These are only good for 2 months in the freezer at most. This applies to hot dogs, as well.

Posted by Beef + Lamb New Zealand