Storing meat in hot weather – what you need to know

Lamb cutlets. Picture: iStock

Here are some answers to questions you may have about storing meat.

What to look for when buying packaged meat

  • Packaging must not be torn or damaged.
  • Always check ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ dates. It is better to eat meat within the suggested time.
  • Make sure the meat is well chilled, especially with regard to power outages.
  • Avoid meat that has discoloured or that has an ‘off’ odour.
  • Trust your nose more than the given ‘use by’ date.
  • The expiry date on the package is merely a recommendation and is affected by temperature, storage and the quality of the meat.
  • Shop for non-perishable food first. Shop for meat last.

How to store meat in the fridge

  • Remove meat from plastic wrapping.
  • Plastic makes meat sweat. If you intend to cook the meat on the day of purchase, there is no need to take it out of the plastic wrapping. If you are storing the meat for longer, transfer it to a dish and loosely cover to allow airflow.
  • Place meat in the meat compartment or on the bottom shelf to ensure that it does not drip onto other foods.
  • Don’t put raw and cooked meat together in the same compartment of the fridge. Cover cooked food, but allow airflow.
  • Keep cooked meat separate from raw meat and ready-to-eat foods in general.
  • Cool down leftovers as quickly as possible (within 2 hours), store them in the fridge and eat them within two days.
  • Fresh meat will keep for three to five days in the fridge. Cooked meat will keep for five to seven days.
  • Pork should be consumed on the day of purchase. The reason pork is more sensitive than other red meat is because of the low content of fat in the meat.
  • Keep uncooked, ground meat and poultry in the refrigerator for only one or two days before cooking or freezing. Chicken is especially sensitive to bacterial infection.
  • Meat that is going straight into the freezer after being purchased can remain in its packaging.

The temperature of your fridge and freezer

  • Keep your fridge temperature at 5ºC or below.
  • Keep your freezer temperature at -18ºC.
  • Always store meat in the coldest part of the refrigerator – in most refrigerators, the coldest spot is in the deepest part where the chill remains even when you open and close the door.

What’s the deal with freezing and refreezing meat?

  • If frozen meat has defrosted, refreezing is not recommended unless it is cooked first.
  • Never refreeze meat which has been thawed and held at room temperature.
  • Depending on the cut, uncooked meat can be stored up to six months in the freezer. Larger cuts, like roasts, can be safely stored for up to six months. Smaller cuts, such as beef steaks, should not be frozen for more than four months. Minced meat should not be frozen for more than three months.
  • Freezer storage times for cooked meats are shorter than raw meat due to what is known as flavour taint. Certain flavours oxidise in the freezer after a period of time.

How to defrost frozen meat

In the fridge: Plan ahead as this is the slowest thawing technique. Small frozen items may thaw overnight in the refrigerator, while larger items will take significantly longer. Meat that has been thawed in the fridge will keep for a few days.

When thawing meat in the fridge, it should be placed on a plate or in a container to prevent juices from contaminating other foods.

In a microwave on the defrost setting: Plan to cook the food immediately after it has thawed in a microwave, because some areas of the food may have begun cooking during the defrost cycle.

Tips for fridge safety

  • Do not open the fridge frequently, especially on hot days because this raises the temperature of the fridge.
  • Clean the fridge regularly to cut down on food odours.
  • Remove spoiled foods immediately to prevent decay from spreading to other foods.
  • Use food stored in the fridge quickly. Don’t depend on maximum storage time.

Originally appeared on Southlands Sun.

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