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meat refrigeration freezing USDA

Refrigerate it? Freeze it? Help!

I can never figure out the best way to store meats when I get home from grocery shopping. Should I freeze or refrigerate them? Help!

The short answer: It depends

The explanation: It depends primarily on how soon you plan to use the meat.

Refrigeration will slow but will not stop bacterial growth. Freezing will inactivate but not destroy bacteria, so they can become active again once thawed. This is important because:

  • There are a limited number of days at which meats, especially when raw, can be safely refrigerated.
  • If refrigerated for a time, then frozen, then put back in the refrigerator to thaw, the initial refrigerated time needs to be considered in determining the meat’s safety.

Safe refrigeration times for meats (at <40°F) are:

  • 1 to 2 days: raw ground meats, poultry, seafood and variety meats (liver, tongue, chitterlings, etc.)
  • 3 to 4 days: cooked meat, poultry and seafood
  • 3 to 5 days: raw beef, veal, lamb and pork roasts, steaks and chops
  • 3 to 5 days: opened packaged or deli-sliced lunch meats
  • 2 weeks: unopened packaged lunch meats

Raw, cooked, and lunch meats can be frozen (at <0°F):

  • Indefinitely for safety
  • 1 to 2 months for best quality
  • If raw, after thawing in the refrigerator (at above times), though quality may deteriorate
  • After cooking, within 3 to 4 days
  • If left unrefrigerated for less than 2 hours (1 hour in temperatures >90°F)
    (any foods requiring refrigeration should be discarded if left out longer)

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