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Freezing Meats

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Posted: November 6, 2012

The supermarket has a special on pork chops; a friend shares some fresh venison, a purchase of a side of beef—all are good reasons for knowing the best methods of freezing meats. Keys for success are proper temperature, air tight packaging, cleanliness, starting with a quality product, and length of storage.

The freezer temperature needs to be at 0°F or lower. If you are going to be freezing a large amount of food at one time, you can turn the freezer setting lower so that added food does not raise the temperature of already frozen food in the freezer. Temperature affects the size of the ice crystals in the food. Large ice crystals, caused by freezing foods too slowly, result in loss of liquid from the meat, diminished weight and darker appearance. Temperature fluctuations also affect the size of ice crystals. Put no more unfrozen food into a freezer than can freeze within 24 hours; this is about 2 to 3 pounds of food per cubic foot of freezer space. Food will freeze more quickly if it is spread out over the freezer and if the food comes into contact with the freezer walls. Frozen packages can be rearranged and stacked later.

Basic cleanliness is important in any method of food preservation. Select meat that has been butchered and processed under sanitary conditions. Work on a clean surface and wash hands and equipment frequently to avoid cross contamination.

Vapor proof wrapping material prevents air from coming into contact with the meat. Select freezer bags specifically labeled for freezing; light weight storage bags are more porous. Flexible bags work well for packing products with irregular shapes such as poultry, fish, and many cuts of meat. Plastic freezer wrap, freezer paper, and heavy-weight foil can be cut to the desired size. The butcher wrap, where the ends are pulled up and the sides are tucked in, works well for irregular shaped meats. The drugstore wrap, where the two sides are folded over at the top and folded snuggly against the meat, forces more air from the package. Store-bought meats need to be over-wrapped because their clear packaging is not moisture-vapor resistant. Rigid containers designed for freezing are suitable for meats such as ground beef; avoid one-time use containers such as cottage cheese containers. Place two layers of freezer paper or wrap between slices or patties of meat to make them easier to separate when frozen. Individual servings of meat such as chicken breasts may be wrapped separately and then placed in a larger freezer bag.

Freezer burn is caused by dry air removing moisture from exposed surfaces of the meat causing a dry, pithy, tough surface. Chemical changes from exposure to air include loss of color, development of off-flavors and absorption of odors. Prevent air exposure by using suitable packaging material and by removing as much air as possible. Press air from freezer bags; some people use a straw to draw air from the bag. A vacuum sealer is ideal for freezing meats if the wrap is moisture proof and if the seal holds its vacuum during storage.

The storage life of frozen meat depends upon the type of meat, the cut and the fat content of the meat. Meats with higher fat content have a shorter storage life because they will develop rancidity more quickly. The salt in cured meats also hastens rancidity. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, beef roasts and steaks will maintain quality for up to 1 year; pork or veal roasts for 8 months; pork chops for 4 months; ground meat for 3 months; ham for two months; uncooked whole chicken or turkey for 1 year but chicken parts for 9 months; turkey parts for only 6 months; bacon 1 month and frankfurters 2 months. The food will be safe for a longer period of time if it remains frozen, but the quality will be lower.

Do not stuff poultry, pork chops, or other meats before freezing. Bacteria that causes food poisoning could easily grow in the stuffing. Remove the stuffing from cooked poultry before freezing the leftovers and freeze them separately.

Cooked meat and leftovers may be frozen if certain precautions are followed. The cooked meat must be refrigerated as quickly as possible after cooking or removal from the oven. No food should be left at room temperature more than a total of two hours. Smaller portions of meat will cool more quickly than one large roast or a large turkey. Refrigerate in shallow containers. Leftover meats should be frozen within a day or two of cooking.

When it is time to thaw frozen meat, thaw it in the refrigerator. Never thaw frozen foods on the counter.

More information is available at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.