How to Store Meat

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Proper storage of meat helps extend its shelf life and allows you to take advantage of sales and bulk buying. It helps your budget by reducing waste due to spoilage or freezer burn. When you store meat correctly, it also can mean better flavor because you're keeping it fresh. The following five steps will help you to properly package and store meat for optimum freshness.

Things You'll Need

  • Clear plastic wrap
  • Butcher wrap paper
  • Masking tape
  • Vacuum packaging machine (optional)
  • Permanent marker

Store Fresh Meat the Right Way

  • Buy meat as fresh as possible. The fresher the meat, the better it will taste and the longer its shelf life. If you're buying pre-packaged meat, such as hamburger, check the expiration dates. The freshest packages are usually towards the back because clerks rotate the older ones forward.

  • Cook meat usually within in two days of buying, unless you're going to freeze it. Depending on the type of meat, you may keep it in the refrigerator between two to four days. For quick reference: chops, 2 to 4 days; ground meat, 1 to 2; roast, 2 to 4; steaks, 2 to 4; and stew meat, 1 to 2. Poultry ranges between 1 to 3 days.

  • Package meat properly for freezer storage to avoid freezer burn. Bundle the meat as you plan to cook it, ie. four chops for a family of four. Wrap the meat in clear plastic wrap. Make sure there are no air pockets where freezer burn likes to form - press the plastic wrap firmly around the meat. Then wrap the package in butcher wrap, and seal with masking tape. These two layers provide good insulation to protect from freezer burn.

  • Vacuum package your meat for freezer and 'fridge. There a variety of vacuum packaging systems available that literally suck out all the air, leaving the meat encased in layered plastic, and seal the bag. You can also vacuum package meats for shorter-term storage in the refrigerator, where they can be kept for up to two weeks.

  • Label and date each package with a permanent marker. Then practice FIFO - first in, first out - which reduces the risk of freezer burn and spoilage. Plus you'll know what's in the package. Even when properly packaged, frozen meats have only several months of shelf life. For quick reference: chops, 6 - 12 months; ground meat, 2 to 3; roast, 6 to 12; steaks, 6 to 9; and stew meat, 2 to 3. A whole bird will keep up to 12 months; pieces up to 9 months.

Tips & Warnings

  • Freezer burn makes meat surfaces look discolored and doesn't taste good. Cut off and discard that portion of the meat.
  • Don't overload your freezer - allowing air to circulate helps keep meat properly frozen.
  • Store meat on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator where it's coldest (36 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit), prior to cooking.
  • For easier separation of meat, you can place freezer paper between chops, burgers and steaks.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. Spoiled meat can cause severe intestinal problems, even food poisoning.
  • If meat smells sour, throw it out. Spoilage has started.
  • When handling meat or poultry, always wash both the counter and your hands after each type of meat to avoid transmitting any form of bacteria.

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