Freezing meat to have on hand is almost a necessity when you have a family. It certainly helps with the budget when you buy items on sale and freeze extra for another week. I try never to pay full price for meat by shopping the sales and buying double. You will want to keep your freezer neat and orderly or you will end up losing track of what you have, even in a small freezer. Label everything with dates and the contents.
When you buy meat from the market, remove it from the store wrapping and rewrap it properly before freezing. You can use freezer bags, coated freezer paper, heavy-duty aluminum foil or plastic freezer containers. Make sure the wrapping or container is clean and free from tears or holes. When packing several pieces in one package, place two layers of freezer paper between the pieces. Trim the meat of any fat before freezing. This will help it keep better. Also, if you are freezing meat for stew or soups, remove as many of the bones as you can to cut down on space.
Freezing does not kill bacteria, nor does it stop the spoiling if the meat is not fresh. So, freeze your meat or poultry as soon as possible to avoid problems! Keep the meat and everything that touches it (such as your hands, kitchen items and work surfaces) very clean while working with the meat. Maintain your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or less, and keep it at a consistent temperature. Do not place items in the freezer until they have cooled off! This will warm up the freezer and could cause problems. Freeze only the amount of fresh meat or poultry that will freeze within 24 hours. This will work out to be approximately 2 to 3 pounds for each cubic foot of freezer space you have. In other words, don't freeze an entire freezer full of food in one day.
Bacon and cured hams have a short freezer life and should be used within one month. Freezing is usually not recommended for hot dogs and lunch meats because they can become rather soggy. However, I freeze hotdogs and shaved ham for 1 to 2 weeks and they are fine. The ham is a little watery, but it tastes great! I freeze small freezer bags of cubed ham for omelets, pizza toppings and other dishes, plus bags of shaved ham for sandwiches. What I have found is the "cheap" brands of hotdogs or lunch meat that tend to be softer, and not as "meaty," don't freeze well.
Cooked meat that has any type of liquid should not be frozen longer than three months. Frozen ground meat should be used within 3 months also. Pork can be frozen for 6 to 8 months. Beef, lamb, veal or venison will be fine for 8 to 12 months. Fresh poultry will last about 12 months. (Watch for bone-in turkey breasts and young chickens on sale to freeze. These make great crockpot meals!)
Seafood varies. If it's a lean fish, it will last about 4 to 6 months, but if it's a fatty fish like tuna, smelt or swordfish, it should be used within 3 months. Shellfish is also recommended at 3 months.
Always thaw your frozen meat in the refrigerator or in the microwave before cooking. Do not thaw it on the counter! I know our mothers always did this, but it simply is not a safe or healthy way to thaw meat. Remember, you are freezing to save time and money, so you want quality meat that will work well for your family and not go bad before you can even use it.
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