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How to Make Sure the Meat in Your Freezer Is Safe to Eat — And That It'll Still Taste Great

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If you’re guilty of grilling up burgers that sat on ice too long, you might be asking yourself, “How long can you freeze meat?” Even though freezing ground beef, pork, and chicken is the best way to keep your weekday favorites safe to eat longer than their expiration date, many people still wonder how long is frozen meat good for, and how to know make sure eating it won't harm your health.

The good news: Many of your favorite cuts of meat fare well in the freezer. With that said, the rules for freezing meat are not so black and white. “It gets pretty nuanced when you’re dealing with varying sizes, types, and preparations,” says Courtney Rada, Host of Carnivorous on Genius Kitchen. “Since every cut of meat is different, every frozen cut of meat will have a different shelf life,” she adds.

If all of these variables leave you scratching your head and asking “How long can you freeze meat?" you’re not alone. In fact, one of the most asked questions about meat storage — from both experienced homemakers and novice chefs alike — is, “How long can you freeze meat before it goes bad?” Here are some quick tips that should help clear up any confusion about how long you can freeze meat.

How long can chicken be frozen?

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Unless you’re cooking a feast, sometimes the fresh chicken you bring home is more than the recipe calls for, which leaves many home chefs wondering exactly how long can chicken be frozen.

Lisa Yakas, Consumer Products Safety Expert at public health and safety organization NSF International, says that fresh poultry, chicken or turkey can be frozen for up to six months. While some experts will tell you that chicken can be frozen up to nine months, Yakas says for the best quality, don’t freeze your chicken longer than six months.

Rada says that chicken nuggets and patties have a shorter freezer life than other poultry, and typically reach peak quality between one and three months.

How long can you freeze ground beef?

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Whether you’re making burgers to put on the grill or sautéing beef for taco salad, ground beef is a core ingredient in many meals. It also makes easy “pack and go” dinners you can store in the freezer. But how long can you freeze ground beef?

Hamburger and other ground meats can be frozen three to four months, according to the food safety information provided by government agencies. When it comes to specific meal questions such as “How long can you freeze meat sauce?” or “How long can you freeze hamburger meat?” the general rule is, cooked meat does not last as long as raw meat in the freezer.

“Most cooked dishes will keep for two to three months in the freezer at 0 degrees," says Yakas. Tomato or broth-based sauces should be fine, but Yakas says to avoid freezing creamy sauces or sauces thickened with cornstarch or flour as they may separate and result in a poor quality product once defrosted or reheated.

To ensure quality, Rada suggests labeling everything before stowing away in the freezer. You also need to think about your mode of storage. She says the thin casing that grocery stores use to package meat are easily punctured and less likely to protect against freezer burn. That’s why it’s much better to package in a couple of Ziploc bags or if you’re really ambitious about preserving freezer life, a vacuum sealer.

How long can you freeze pork?

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If you like to cook a lot of the other white meat, there’s a good chance you’ve questioned how long can you freeze pork. Rada says she errs on the shorter side and only leaves cooked pork in the freezer for two to three months.

When it comes to different cuts of pork, there are two common questions: “How long can you freeze pork chops?” and “How long can you freeze pork ribs?" Yakas says fresh pork chops and ribs can be frozen (0°F/-18°C) four to six months. Ground pork mixtures, however, would follow the same timeline as ground beef (three to four months).

When in doubt, you can always use your judgement and the smell-detector test to make the final call. The appearance and smell of meat can help you decide if you should eat it or not. That’s because some foods can develop a rancid odor, while others may not look very appetizing after being frozen for too long.

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