Can you eat 2 year old frozen meat? (Effects of freezing)

In this article, we answer the following question: “Can you eat 2 year old frozen meat?” We talk about how long can meat be frozen, and how to defrost it correctly.

Can you eat 2 year old frozen meat?

USDA recommends throwing away uncooked roasts, steaks, and chops after a year in the freezer, uncooked ground meat after 4 months and cooked meat after just 2 to 3 months. While you can eat 2-year-old frozen meat, you shouldn’t, because after this time in the freezer, the meat will have lost all of its nutritional value and also may taste bad.  (1)

The freezing and thawing procedures primarily affect the moisture content within the meat. Because water is dispersed throughout and between the muscle fibers, it creates distinct pockets within the tissue, introducing complexity to the process.

Freezing water results in an increase in the concentration of remaining solutes such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. This, in turn, disturbs the delicate balance of the meat’s composition.

Changes in the surrounding environment of the muscle fibers also impact the properties of cell membranes, consequently influencing the overall quality of the meat. (2)

Is it possible for frozen beef to spoil?

Yes, despite refrigeration serving as a means to slow down both chemical and biological processes in food, effectively safeguarding it from further quality degradation, subjecting it to multiple freeze-thaw cycles has been observed to significantly increase lipid and protein oxidation while simultaneously compromising its color stability.

Changes in the meat’s color may be attributed to the development of metmyoglobin, a result of protein oxidation that influences color alterations during repeated freeze-thaw cycles. These structural transformations within proteins, driven by oxidation, directly impact the meat’s ability to retain moisture.

Improper storage and mishandling of frozen beef can result in spoilage. When products are exposed to inadequate storage conditions, the risk of bacterial growth within the beef becomes a concern. This situation can lead to potential foodborne illnesses, including but not limited to E. coli or salmonella poisoning. (3)

What steps should we follow to freeze meat?

For prolonged freezer storage, appropriate packaging is essential to preserve quality and prevent freezer burn. While it is generally safe to freeze meat in its original packaging, it’s important to note that this type of packaging can allow air to penetrate over time, potentially diminishing the quality of the food.

It is advisable to rewrap these packages in the same way you would wrap any food intended for long-term storage. There’s no need to rinse meat before freezing. Vacuum-sealed packages can be frozen as they are.

If you happen to notice that a package has accidentally torn or opened while in the freezer, rest assured that the meat remains safe to use; simply overwrap or rewrap it to maintain its quality. To preserve the quality of the meat, it’s crucial to freeze it as quickly as possible.

Rapid freezing prevents the formation of undesirable large ice crystals throughout the product because the molecules do not have sufficient time to organize into the characteristic six-sided snowflake pattern.

In contrast, slow freezing leads to the development of large, disruptive ice crystals. During the thawing process, these ice crystals can damage cells and dissolve emulsions, causing the meat to release moisture and lose its juiciness. (1)

How freezing can affect beef quality?

Freezing and thawing bring about alterations in both the amount and the distribution of moisture within meat tissue. The temperature at which meat is frozen and stored plays a crucial role in determining the quantity of unfrozen water available for ongoing chemical reactions.

Biochemical processes can persist in meat when it’s frozen and stored at temperatures above −20 °C. The proportion of unfrozen water is important to oxidation, as chemical reactions can occur during frozen storage, primary lipid oxidation (peroxidation). This peroxidation process leads to undesirable changes in color, aroma, taste, and overall nutritional quality.

Connected to lipid oxidation, protein oxidation in meat can result in reduced quality due to reduced tenderness and juiciness, as well as a decline in flavor and discoloration. Lastly, the autoxidation of myoglobin causes alterations in the color stability of meat following the freezing and thawing process. (2)

What is the impact of thawing on beef quality?

The main impacts on beef quality after thawing are influenced by factors such as temperature, duration, and the thawing methods employed. Inadequate thawing decreases meat quality, including its texture, flavor, and color.

Among the various thawing methods, refrigeration at 4 °C is the safest method. However, it is considered slower and has not been extensively compared to other methods in terms of their impact on the sensory characteristics of beef.

When considering faster thawing methods like microwave or cold water thawing, there is a possibility that they may affect the tenderness and juiciness of the beef. (4)

How to know if frozen beef is bad?

The main signs of beef spoilage include texture changes, emergence of slime or liquids, shifts in color, and development of unpleasant odors. These signs of spoilage can often manifest even in frozen storage. Spoilage can occur through different mechanisms, as well as microbial contamination. (5)

What happens when you eat spoiled beef?

Consuming spoiled beef can lead to illness, with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. These symptoms arise from the ingestion of food contaminated by either chemical substances or microorganisms and their toxins.

Common pathogens found in fresh meat products include E. coli O157:H7 and similar enteric microorganisms like Salmonella. On the other hand, the Gram-positive bacterium L. monocytogenes is of particular concern, especially in the context of ready-to-eat meat and poultry products.

In environments conducive to its growth, this pathogen can pose a threat if it experiences re-contamination during stages such as slicing and packaging, following procedures intended to eliminate harmful microorganisms. (6, 7)


In this article, we answered the following question: “Can you eat 2-year-old frozen meat?” We talked about how long can meat be frozen, and how to defrost it correctly.

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U.S. Department of Agriculture. Website. Washington, DC. Freezing and Food Safety. 2013.


Leygonie, C., Britz, T. J., & Hoffman, L. C. Impact of freezing and thawing on the quality of meat: Review. Meat Science, 91(2), 93–98. 2012.


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Gomes CL, Silva TJ, Pflanzer SB, Bolini HMA. Impact of frozen temperature and thawing methods on the Brazilian sensory profile of Nellore beef. Sci agric (Piracicaba, Braz) [Internet]. 78(6):e20200067. 2021.


Luong NM, Coroller L, Zagorec M, Membré JM, Guillou S. Spoilage of Chilled Fresh Meat Products during Storage: A Quantitative Analysis of Literature Data. Microorganisms. Aug 6;8(8):1198. 2020.


Hennekinne, J.-A., Herbin, S., Firmesse, O., & Auvray, F. European Food Poisoning Outbreaks Involving Meat and Meat-based Products. Procedia Food Science, 5, 93–96. 2015.


Sofos, John N. Challenges to meat safety in the 21st century. Meat science 78.1-2, 3-13, 2008.