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How to store meat?

Food preservation is a subject that has preoccupied mankind since the dawn of time. Thanks to advances in biochemistry, modern preservation techniques have become highly technological. In this article, we take a look at meat preservation for the average person with a refrigerator and some common sense at their disposal.

dehydrated pork belly
Salted and cured pork belly

What is conservation?

Meat preservation encompasses all techniques aimed at preserving the food's nutritional properties while ensuring that it remains edible, particularly for humans.

Without preservative treatment, meat is a foodstuff that degrades naturally, due to its enzyme and fatty acid content. In addition, several external factors accelerate its degradation: putrefaction under the action of various microorganisms, bacterial development and contamination by certain insects that lay eggs in it.

As the ingestion of spoiled meat can cause serious food poisoning, it's clear that its preservation is of prime importance. However, with so much information and opinion on the subject, it can be difficult to find simple, reliable information. Here's our summary of the essentials when it comes to preservation.

Cold chain and packaging

Meat preservation practices apply at every stage between production and tasting, which is why we speak in this field of respecting the " cold chain ". No matter how you store your meat at home, if the cold chain has not been respected upstream, it is likely to be spoiled.

At Meatywe make this a point of honor, for example by offering refrigerated delivery all year round. The entire supply chain for the meat we offer complies with the directives of the Service de la Consommation et des Affaires V├ęt├ęrinaires (SCAV) as well as those of theDFI Ordinance on hygiene in food-related activities (OHyg).

What's more, we deliver our cuts of meat in high-quality, tight-fitting, watertight vacuum packs. Packing and use-by dates are indicated on each package.

Song specificities

Not all cuts of meat degrade at the same rate. For example, beef beef keeps better than lamb meat which keeps better than a whole whole chicken.

The shape of the piece also has an influence. The higher the surface-to-volume ratio, the shorter the shelf life. The surface-to-volume ratio is expressed in terms of relative exposure to air: for equal weight, a sliced piece is more exposed to air than a roast. To put it simply, large pieces generally keep better than small ones.

emince roti
Sliced beef and simmered roast

In addition, the fat content also influences the speed of degradation; a piece containing a lot of fat (fatty acid) will have a reduced shelf life.

Finally, we believe that common sense should always be used when assessing the condition of a cut. The appearance of meat, particularly its smell and color, says a lot about its state of preservation. The best-before date is a mandatory piece of information, which is often too strict if the preservation conditions have been perfectly respected. On the other hand, a piece of meat may be spoiled early on, for example if it has not been transported in accordance with the cold chain. When in doubt, always respect the best-before date.

Keep meat refrigerated

Refrigeration involves storing meat in an environment below 5┬░C. The cold stabilizes the meat by reducing the activity of enzymes and microorganisms, in inverse proportion to the temperature. The colder the environment, the lower the activity of enzymes and microorganisms, and the more effective the preservation. This means that fresh meat can be kept for several days.

Here are some examples of Meaty's recommended maximum refrigerated storage times:

Maximum shelf life, refrigerated, maximum 5┬░C, vacuum-packed

Beef chuck, roast, prime rib

9 days

Sliced loin, steak, lamb or pork chops

7 days

Minced meat

5 days

Bones

3 days

Whole chicken

2 days

Keep meat in the freezer

Meat is considered frozen from -18┬░C to -30┬░C. Below that point, it is deep-frozen. In addition to the above-mentioned effects of cold, freezing further stabilizes meat by freezing the water it contains. Water is a favorable medium for bacterial development, unless it is solid (ice). Under these conditions, meat can be kept for several months without additives.

Here are some examples of Meaty's freezer shelf life recommendations:

Maximum freezer shelf life, -18┬░C to -30┬░C, vacuum-packed

-18┬░C

-24┬░C

-30┬░C

Pork meat

4 to 8 months

8 to 10 months

12 months

Lamb and veal meat

5 to 6 months

12 months

12 months

Beef

10 to 12 months

18 months

24 months

Poultry

10 to 12 months

18 months

24 months

It should be noted that cuts should be frozen when fresh. If the meat shows signs of "aging", it's better to eat it than freeze it. Freezing will in no way improve its condition. At best, freezing/thawing does (almost) no damage to the meat; at worst, if the process is not followed correctly, the quality of the food may be significantly impaired.

To limit the harmful effects of freezing, please observe the following principles:

  1. Freeze efficiently (quickly). One of the most common negative effects of freezing is the loss of meat juices. The amount of juice lost depends directly on the speed of freezing. The faster the food is completely frozen, the less likely it is to lose juice when defrosted. So make sure your freezer is working properly, and place your cuts in the coldest places.
  2. Defrost gently (slowly). To further limit the loss of juices and preserve the meat's original texture, it is essential to avoid thermal shock. It is therefore advisable to defrost meat in the refrigerator, for several days if necessary. Note that it is advisable to air the meat 1 hour before cooking, in order to aerate it and bring it to room temperature.
  3. Use suitable packaging. To avoid cold "burn" and freeze in optimum conditions, use suitable packaging, such as the vacuum bags in which we deliver our food.
  4. Favour cuts with a reduced surface/volume ratio (cf. Specificity of cuts). These cuts generally keep better and are more resistant to freezing and thawing.

Preserving cooked meat

In some cases, freezing is not an alternative. In other cases, the meat has already been prepared. It is interesting to note that cooking improves preservation through its sterilizing effect. Cooked meat can therefore be kept for a few extra days in the refrigerator.

Traditional preservation methods

Cured meats

Salting is one of the oldest methods of preservation. Salt, a naturally abundant element, has the ability to chemically bind to water, making it unfavorable to the reproduction of bacteria and microorganisms. This effect is known as bacteriostatic.

Drying

In the Alpine canton of Graub├╝nden, our ancestors used to dry meat in the pure Alpine air, thus improving its preservation by draining the water from it. In those days, the inhabitants of remote valleys had to stock up on provisions to meet the energy requirements imposed by the long, harsh winter months.

pâturage-suisse
Grazing in the Swiss Alps

Smoking

Smoking uses the smoke produced by burning wood. The smoke has fungistatic (fungus-inhibiting) and antiseptic properties. For optimum preservation, smoking is often combined with drying.

It is interesting to note that each of the traditional preservation techniques rubs off on the taste of the meat. Today, the trend is to use preservation methods that minimize the impact on the food's nutritional properties. As is often the case, what were once necessary preservation techniques have now become culinary traditions.

In a nutshell

Meat preservation, and food preservation in general, is a complex subject. Nevertheless, all it takes is a few basic notions and a general understanding to optimize your day-to-day practices. Here, in a nutshell, are the fundamental principles not to be overlooked:

  • Store the meat in the refrigerator to be eaten soon. Otherwise, freeze directly.
  • Defrost meat gently in the refrigerator
  • Use common sense and trust food appearance

Main sources

Professional knowledge of the Swiss meat industry UPSV (book)

Swiss Meat Trade Association

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