A Butcher’s Guide to Safe Meat Shelf Life

Every type of meat has a different shelf life, and the way you store your cuts of meat can significantly influence how long it lasts. Whether you own a grocery store or a local butcher shop, you should know exactly how long your various cuts of meat will last so you can always serve your customers trustworthy, safe products. From freezer paper to temperatures, here’s your go-to guide to safe meat shelf life:

Fresh Storage: Refrigeration

Meat should always be stored in cool or cold temperatures while it is raw, as harmful bacteria can grow quickly on meat in lukewarm temperatures. Refrigeration helps the meat to last longer and stay fresh while keeping it ready to cook. Grocery store meat shelves and butcher display cases typically use refrigeration for this reason, because it allows customers to purchase meat and cook it that same day without worrying about thawing.

Meat stored in a refrigerator should be kept between 32°F (0°C) and 40°F (4°C) in order to slow pathogen growth without actually freezing the meat. The refrigerator temperature should also be kept consistent, so you should install thermometers and check them regularly to ensure meat is being stored safely.

Packaging for Refrigerator Storage

Quality meat packaging can go a long way toward extending the shelf life of your meat products. Because refrigerated products are typically stored for display, you’ll want to use clear packaging that allows customers to see the product.

Tightly wrapped and sealed packaging helps the meat to remain fresh, retaining its texture, flavor, and juiciness throughout its shelf life. The more tightly sealed the packaging, the longer your meat will last. The type of packaging you use largely depends on your available packaging equipment and your preferred meat display method. Freezer paper isn’t necessary, as the meat is not stored at freezing temperatures that could cause freezer burn without it.

Shelf Life and Storage for Different Meats

Each type of meat will have a different shelf life when refrigerated and should be labeled accordingly to avoid selling expired meat products. Here is the average shelf life of various types of meat, plus how to store it effectively:

Ground Meat and Poultry lasts only one to two days refrigerated due to the larger surface area. Store it in poly meat bags that tightly seal the meat on all sides.

Raw Beef Cuts such as chops, roasts, and steaks will last up to five days if wrapped tightly. Packaging with trays and vacuum skin packaging will display your meat beautifully while catching any drippings.

Pork should be refrigerated between 36 and 40°F (2 and 4°C) with tight plastic wrap packaging such as rollstock film. If tightly sealed and stored at the right temperature, pork will last up to five days.

Poultry, including chicken or turkey, should be stored at temperatures below 40°F (4°C) in vacuum-sealed packaging. Whole turkeys and chickens can be stored using shrink bags that display the full shape and texture of the product. Poultry usually only lasts a couple of days, so it’s best to freeze it when keeping long term.

Other Tips for Refrigerating Meat

Packaging and controlled temperatures set the foundation for safe meat storage and long shelf life, but there are a few other things you should do to make your refrigerator storage as hospitable to your meat (and inhospitable to contaminants) as possible:

  • Store meat separate from other foods to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Clean and sanitize your refrigerator regularly, wiping up any spills and drips from meat products as quickly as possible to keep the storage area hygienic and pathogen-free.
  • When displaying larger meat products that may be cut to order, keep them in resealable bags or sealed containers that protect the meat from air and moisture while providing quick access.
  • Pat meat dry before packaging to reduce moisture on the meat product.
  • Label individual meat products with dates so you know when they are no longer safe for sale.

Long-term Storage: Freezing

Freezing your meat will give it the longest possible shelf life, with some types of meat lasting up to a year frozen. Meat that is frozen correctly will maintain its flavor, texture, and quality when thawed. Like with refrigeration, safe meat preservation when freezing all comes down to temperature and packaging.

Packaging for Freezer Storage

Frozen meat should also be packaged in tightly sealed wrapping or containers, with the best materials for freezer packaging being plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or freezer bags. Utilizing freezer paper can also help your meat to last longer and stay fresh in freezing temperatures.

Freezer paper has a wax or polyethylene coating on one side that locks in moisture to protect meat products against freezer burn in low temperatures and prevent juices from leaking in your freezer. The coating allows freezer paper to remain sturdy when wet, unlike butcher paper which is more likely to absorb juices from the meat.

Shelf Life and Storage for Different Meats

Frozen meat should be kept at 0°F (-18°C) to ensure protection from bacterial growth and spoiling. While keeping the temperature low is an important first step, the shelf life of frozen meat still varies significantly due to variations in packaging. Here is the average shelf life of different types of meat when frozen and how you should package them:

Ground Meat and Poultry can last up to four months in the freezer. When packaging separate meat patties for storage, place patty paper between the different patties to keep them from freezing together.

Raw Beef Cuts have an extremely long shelf life in the freezer, lasting up to 12 months if packaged properly. If you are planning to store raw beef for more than a few months, be sure to use freezer paper to protect it for the long haul.

Pork should be packaged in heavy-duty plastic wrap or aluminum foil when frozen to maintain freshness as long as possible. It can last anywhere from four to 12 months depending on the quality of storage and the cut of pork.

Poultry must be kept below 0°F (-18°C) at all times when stored in the freezer so it stays completely frozen. Poultry cuts can be frozen for up to nine months, whereas whole poultry can last as long as a year. Use vacuum-sealed packaging for airtight protection to ensure this long shelf life.

All Your Meat Packaging Solutions in One Place

At Bunzl Processor Division, we have everything you need to keep your meat products fresh and safely packaged, whether for display or long-term storage. From freezer paper to shrink wrap to vacuum-sealing equipment, find what you need to protect your products in our packaging shop.