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How long can I keep meat in the freezer for?

Tim Maddams gives his tips

meat in freezer

Label and date everything that goes in the freezer

Q: I recently cleared out my freezer ready for the season ahead and I found some venison from 2015. Do you think it will 
be OK to eat?

A:I know the feeling. Despite attempting to keep things orderly in the home freezer, it can 
be tricky keeping track. I highly recommend a vacuum packer for any freezing you are planning and a good marker pen — labels seem to drop off in the freezer, never to be seen again. Though the odd game of freezer roulette is entertaining, it can be annoying when you have a specific recipe in mind or are short of time.

Meat in freezer safety

From a safety point of view, it’s important not to poison yourself. The Food Standards Agency offers little advice on the subject but it does state: “The cold temperatures of a domestic freezer (-18°C) delay chemical reactions within foods and put any bacteria that may be present on pause.

“The bacteria are still alive, but they stop growing or producing toxins, in effect pausing reactions. The important thing to remember is that because the bacteria haven’t been killed, they may be revived 
as the food defrosts.

“Make sure the food never enters the danger zone because the bacteria may grow and make you ill. This is why you should defrost food within a fridge. It is also the reason why we advise that foods can’t be refrozen if they are accidentally defrosted, unless they are first cooked. If the food has been defrosted it must be cooked before being eaten to be safe. Once defrosted, foods should be treated as if they are fresh and consumed within two days.”

Packaging and labelling

For me it is all about packaging — if you store things well wrapped in the freezer, with no or very little air in the packaging, things keep exceptionally well. If you simply pop them in the deep freeze poorly wrapped, or if the packaging gets damaged, the meat will begin to 
get freezer burn, and freezer-
burned meat is not the ideal gastronomical prospect.

freezing game

Tips for freezing game

Now that the season has started you’ll hopefully be bringing plenty of game home. Of course you won’t be able…

Cautiously, I would advise that there is no real upper limit to how long raw meat can remain frozen 
and still be good to eat, provided 
that it was fresh, clean and well packaged at the time or freezing 
and the freezing temperature has been maintained.