Is It Safe To Eat 2-Year-Old Frozen Meat?

You discover a pack of meat at the back of your freezer, long forgotten. A quick check of the packaging reveals that it has been sitting there for at least two years. The immediate questions on your mind: "Is this frozen meat still safe to eat? Or is it zombie meat?"

The answer is a reassuring "Yes, it's safe to eat." You won't turn into a zombie if you eat the mystery meat frozen for years in the recesses of your freezer. According to USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Guidelines, when you properly store food, including meat, at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, it remains safe to consume indefinitely. Freezing is a safety net that preserves food by slowing molecular movement and activity. Poisonous microbes like bacteria are put into sleep mode by freezing. In simpler terms, it's almost impossible for most frozen foods to ever become spoiled in a working freezer.  Spiral Freezer

Is It Safe To Eat 2-Year-Old Frozen Meat?

So, from a food safety perspective, your two-year-old meat is good to go. Thaw it, cook it, and enjoy it! However, we must note that while freezing will prevent the meat from spoiling, the meat's quality in terms of taste and texture can deteriorate over prolonged periods.

The quality of meat, unfortunately, doesn't fare as well over extended periods in the freezer as its safety does. As meat freezes, the water molecules within it form ice crystals. Over time (especially if there are temperature fluctuations within the freezer), these ice crystals can grow larger, puncturing the meat's cellular structure. When you eventually thaw the long-frozen meat, it may experience a loss of moisture as the ice crystals melt away, leading to a drier texture and less juiciness upon cooking. And, texture isn't the only quality that suffers. Meat is susceptible to oxidation, even when frozen. Over time, this oxidation can cause the fats in meat to turn rancid, imparting an unpleasant flavor to the meat and potentially even changing its color.

Cooked and prepared meats — like stored casserole, grilled chicken, and other frozen leftovers — are also at the mercy of the freezer. While they remain safe, they can undergo textural changes and flavor degradation. Cream and fat-based dishes may destabilize and separate upon thawing, and vegetables within dishes, especially wet veggies like tomatoes, can develop an undesirable mushy consistency. So, while freezing is an excellent preservation method for your meat and cooked food, time can be a formidable foe to the food's quality and taste.

Now that we know frozen meat is safe to eat, albeit with a decline in its quality, we also need to address another frosty challenge: freezer burn. When meat has been in the freezer for two years or longer, freezer burn is a common concern. Active airflow in the freezer causes freezer burn, which manifests as a dry, almost leathery texture and icy spots on the meat's surface. Though freezer burn doesn't technically make it unsafe, it can significantly detract from the meat's texture and flavor.

To salvage any meat with freezer burn, consider trimming away the freezer-burned sections. Also, try to proactively prevent freezer burn. Wrap the meat tightly before freezing to reduce airflow exposure. Using vacuum-sealed bags, airtight containers, and wrapping heavy-duty aluminum foil around the plastic wrap encasing the meat are all highly effective ways to minimize air exposure.

Is It Safe To Eat 2-Year-Old Frozen Meat?

Spiral Belts When considering long-term freezing, it's essential to recognize that meat, when properly frozen, remains safe to consume indefinitely. However, it's worth repeating: while safety is ensured, quality and taste can diminish over time. Being aware of challenges like freezer burn, especially during extended storage, can make all the difference when it finally comes time to defrost.