How to freeze and defrost meat

How to freeze and defrost meat

These are questions we are commonly asked about freezing and defrosting. This page covers all of the information you’ll need to freeze and defrost meat easily and safely.

Q: What’s the best way to freeze fresh meat?

Freeze in meal size portions to ensure only the amount needed is defrosted. Use good quality, strong plastic bags and good quality foil to protect meat. Expel as much air as possible. Secure with tape for an effective seal.

Each package should carry a label showing name of cut, weight or amount and date of packaging.

Rather than freezing unpackaged mince in a roundish shape as bought from the butcher, lay it out flat to freeze. This allows the mince to both freeze and thaw evenly.

Q: What’s the best way to thaw meat?

It takes a bit of planning but frozen meat is best thawed in the fridge.

  • Time for a large roast is about 4 to 7 hours per 500g.
  • A smaller roast like a rack of lamb will take about 3 to 5 hours per 500g.
  • Steaks (about 3cm thick) will take about 12 hours or overnight.

If you do not have much time you can use the microwave. If using a microwave oven to defrost, the outside of the meat can reach high temperatures so the meat must be cooked immediately (and NOT allowed to sit for any length of time) after it has been defrosted. Read more on how to defrost meat using the microwave.

Use extra care with frozen mince. Its greater exposed surface area of meat means it should be cooked as soon as possible after defrosting.

Q: If frozen meat has defrosted, can it be refrozen?

It’s not recommended, unless the meat is cooked first.

The major reason for this is that there can be microbial risk as a result of re-freezing, this can be avoided by cooking the meat before refreezing.

The quality of the meat is also affected. Freezing creates ice crystals within the structure of the meat (as meat contains a high percentage of water). These tiny ice crystals rupture the fibre of the meat, which causes the meat to loose a little of this water when defrosted. If repeated freezing occurs the meat will be very dry and unpleasant to eat.

Q: What happens if meat goes beyond the maximum recommended freezing time?

Freezing prolongs storage time because it prevents microbial growth. Recommended times are related to optimum eating quality and optimum health safety.

Q: Why is it that freezer storage times for cooked meats are shorter than raw meat?

It’s due to what is known as flavour taint. Certain flavours oxidise in the freezer after a period of time. The most common are onion and garlic.

As many cooked dishes contain one or both of these ingredients, it’s recommended to store cooked dishes for no longer than one month to prevent ‘off’ flavours occurring.

Freezer storage times for fresh beef and lamb

  • Sausages:  1-2 months
  • Mince:  2-3 months
  • Meats strips:  2-3 months
  • Diced meat:  2-3 months
  • Thin steaks (minute):  2-3 months
  • Steaks:  3-4 months
  • Roasts (boned and rolled):  4-6 months
  • Roasts (bone in):  4-6 months
  • Corned beef (fresh):  4-6 months
  • Vacuum packed meat (unopened):  4-6 months

The temperature of your fridge and freezer is important. Regularly check that both the fridge and freezer operate at these temperatures.

  • Fridge temperature: 4ºC to 5ºC
  • Freezer temperature: -15ºC to -18ºC

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