How to Store Meat Correctly

As long as you follow some basic guidelines, raw and cooked meat may be successfully stored in the fridge or the freezer.

Storing in the Fridge

Once bought, transport meat home as quickly as possible. As soon as you get home, unwrap the meat and then re-wrap it loosely in cling film, tinfoil or greaseproof paper to allow circulation of air. Always keep raw and cooked meat separate. Place raw meat as low as possible in the fridge; this will eliminate the danger of meat juices dripping on to vegetables or cooked food and will also allow the meat to be stored at the coldest temperature.

Make sure that your fridge temperature is no higher than 5°C (41°F).

Storing in the Freezer

To freeze meat successfully, it must be frozen very fast - something that lies beyond the capacity of domestic freezers. So although it is possible to freeze meat at home, it is usually better to buy blast-frozen, either from freezer-food centres, or from a butcher that offers a freezing service.

Once frozen, meat may be stored in the freezer for up to a year; the maximum storage time is determined largely by the fat content, as fat eventually turns rancid even when frozen. Pork fat turns rancid more quickly than beef or lamb fat, and salted meats (such as bacon or ham) can retain water and become tough.

If meat is inadequately wrapped, it will develop freezer burn - dehydration on the surface of the meat, resulting in changes in texture, colour and flavour. Although it will be perfectly safe to eat, the meat will develop brown or grey-white patches on its surface and will taste dry and unpleasant. Avoid freezer burn by wrapping meat securely in extra-thick moisture- and vapour-proof freezer bags, making sure that as much air as possible is expelled before the bags are sealed.

Make sure that your freezer is kept no higher than -18°C (0°F).

Meat Storage Times

The following table shows the approximate storage time for uncooked meat:

Meat Freezer Refrigerator
Bacon (Unopened) 1 month 2 weeks
Bacon (Opened) 1 month 1 week
Beef: Joints or Steaks 6-12 months 3-5 days
Beef: Minced 3 months 1 day
Lamb: Joints or Chops 6-9 months 3-5 days
Lamb: Minced or Cubed 3-4 months 1 day
Offal 3-4 months 1 day
Pork: Joints or Chops 4-6 months 3-5 days
Pork: Minced 3-4 months 1 day
Pork: Sausages 1-2 months 1-2 days
Veal: Joints 4-8 months 1-2 days
Veal: Steaks, Chops or Minced 3-4 months 1 day

You can also store cooked and processed meats in the fridge or freezer; the table below lists the guidelines for their maximum storage times.

Meat Freezer Refrigerator
Casseroles 3-6 months 2 days
Ham 1-2 months 3-5 days
Pate 3 months 1 week
Roast Meat: Sliced in Sauce 3 months 2-3 days
Roast Meat: Whole Joint 2 months 3-4 days

Thawing Meat

Meat should always be defrosted before cooking; although small cuts of beef or lamb maybe cooked from frozen without risk to health, the results will be much tastier if allowed to thaw beforehand. For food safety reasons, pork, boned and rolled joints must always be thoroughly defrosted before cooking.

Meat may be thawed at room temperature or in the fridge; the latter method is preferable as slow defrosting allows the juices to become re-absorbed. The table below shows the amount of time that meat should be allowed to thaw in either the fridge or at room temperature.

Meat Type Refrigerator Room Temperature
Large Cuts 6-7 hours / 450 g (1 lb) 2-3 hours / 450 g (1 lb)
Steaks and Chops 5 hours 2-4 hours

Frozen meat may also be thawed in the microwave; however, this must be done carefully to ensure that some areas do not start to cook before others have finished thawing. Use the Defrost power level, and allow the food to stand periodically to allow for an even distribution of heating.