Meat Storage for Safety and Quality

Proper food storage helps to preserve the quality and nutritional value of the foods you purchase and also helps make the most of your food dollar by preventing spoilage. Additionally, proper food storage can help prevent foodborne illnesses caused by harmful bacteria. Use fresh, perishable foods soon after they are harvested or purchased. Signs of spoilage that make food unpalatable but not a bacterial hazard are the rancid odour and flavour of fats caused by oxidation, slime on the surface of the meat, and the fermentation of fruit juices due to yeast growth. Off-odours in foods and a sour taste in bland foods can indicate dangerous bacterial spoilage. However, food can be high in bacteria count even without such signals.

Food Selection

Buy food from reputable producers or retailers, with a known record for safe handling. Select dated products only if the “sell by” or “use by” date has not expired. While these dates are helpful, they are reliable only if the food has been kept at the proper temperature during storage and handling. Although many products bear “sell by” or “use by” dates, except for infant formula, product dating is not a federal requirement. Select products labelled “keep refrigerated” only if they are stored in a refrigerated case and are cold to the touch. Frozen products should be solidly frozen. Packages of precooked foods should not be torn or damaged.

Avoid cross-contamination between potentially hazardous foods and fresh foods like fruits and vegetables. Place raw meat and poultry in individual plastic bags to prevent the meat from contaminating foods that will be eaten without further cooking. Put packages of raw meat and poultry in your shopping cart where juices cannot drip on other foods. Shop for perishables last. Keep refrigerated and frozen items together so they will remain cold. Place perishables in the coolest part of your car during the trip home. If the time from the store to the home refrigerator is more than one hour, pack them in an insulated container with ice or an ice pack.

Food Storage

To retain quality and nutritive value, stock only the kinds and amounts of food you can store properly. Proper storage means maintaining a clean refrigerator and freezer. Avoid overcrowding the refrigerator. Arrange items so cold air can circulate freely. To reduce dehydration and quality loss, use freezer wrap, freezer-quality plastic bags, or aluminium foil over commercial wrap on meat and poultry that will be stored in the freezer for more than two months. Table 1 gives short but safe time limits that will help keep refrigerated food from spoiling or becoming dangerous to eat. The time limits for frozen foods are to maintain flavour and texture. It is still safe to eat frozen foods that have been stored longer.

Table 1. Safe food storage guidelines.

ProductRefrigerator (35-40 degree F)Freezer (0 degrees F)Comments
Bratwurst: fresh1-2 days2-3 monthsMeats may be left in the supermarket packaging for refrigerator storage or for very brief freezer storage. For frozen storage beyond two weeks, rewrap in moisture- and vapor-proof wrap or freezer bags.
precooked5-7 days2-3 months
Chops: lamb2-4 days6-9 months
veal2-4 days4-6 months
Ground beef, stew meat, turkey, veal, lamb1-2 days3-4 months
Roasts: beef2-4 days6-12 months
lamb2-4 days6-9 months
veal2-4 days4-8 months
Sausage: beef, turkey1-2 days1-2 months
Steaks, beef,2-4 days6-12 months
Variety meats (tongue, liver, brains, heart, kidneys)1-2 days3-4 months
Cooked Meat Section
Canned meat, opened2-3 daysNRQuickly refrigerate all cooked meats and leftovers. Use as soon as possible. Cut large roasts into half’s to cool in the refrigerator. Fats tend to separate in homemade gravies, stews, and sauces but usually recombine when heated. Gravy and meat broth 1-2 days 2-3 months Cool leftover gravy and broth quickly, in shallow containers, in the refrigerator.
Cooked meat and meat dishes3-4 days2-3 months
Gravy and meat broth1-2 days2-3 months
Processed & Cured Meat Section
Bacon5-7 days1 monthKeep packaged meats in the original package. For best quality, use within one week of the “sell by” date.
Corned beef: drained and wrapped5-7 days1 month 
in pouch with pickling juice5-7 daysNR 
Frankfurters (hotdogs)3-5 days*1-2 monthsFrozen, cured meats lose quality rapidly; use as soon as (hotdogs) possible.
Ham: canned, unopened8-12 monthsNRSmall pieces of canned ham (opened) may be frozen for 4-6 weeks.
half3-5 days1-2 months
whole7 days1-2 months
Luncheon meats4 days*1-2 months 
Sausage: smoked7 days1-2 months 
dry and semidry sausage2-3 weeks1-2 months 
*Storage time after vacuum-sealed package is opened. Unopened package may be kept for two weeks or according to the date on the package.