A water molecule inside a frozen steak or any other food is like a hound dog on a hot day—it will seek the coolest place so it can decrease its energy, says Wolke. The shrink-wrap or butcher paper your steak comes in creates air pockets that allow water molecules to escape in search of the coldest place in the freezer, which is on or near the coils in the inner walls. (That’s why your freezer can look like the South Pole if it lacks a defroster.) If too many water molecules manage to exit the steak, it will become dry and shriveled—the dreaded freezer burn.
Prevent freezer burn by keeping water molecules trapped in place with airtight wrapping, Wolke says. Simply remove the meat from its package and wrap it snugly in plastic wrap, then slip it in a freezer bag, squeezing out as much air as possible before zipping it shut.
In theory, properly frozen meat can last a lifetime—or longer—without spoiling. Mammoth flesh preserved in ice discovered in Siberia kept for at least 15,000 years. Burgers made from that mammoth meat wouldn’t kill you, although they probably wouldn’t be too tasty. Even well-wrapped frozen meat eventually develops enough tissue damage to affect flavor. Here’s how long the USDA recommends that you store different types of meat:
- Frankfurters and deli slices: 1 to 2 months
- Ground meat: 3 to 4 months
- Pork chops: 4 to 6 months
- Fish: 6 months
- Beef, veal, and lamb steaks: 6 to 12 months
- Poultry: 9 months
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