Can you eat frozen meat past its expiration date?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you eat frozen meat past its expiration date?”, and how long does meat last in the freezer?

Can you eat frozen meat past its expiration date?

Yes, you can eat frozen meat past its expiration date. During frozen storage, there is no microbial growth, although many chemical and enzymatic reactions occur, which compromise the sensory properties of the frozen meat, such as color, odor and flavor (1).

After the expiration date, it is possible that the meat quality drops considerably and still be safe to consume. However, you should be aware of any signs of spoilage in meat and prepare the meat properly to avoid foodborne diseases.

What are the risks of eating meat past the expiration date? 

The risk of eating meat past its expiration date are of experiencing a foodborne disease in the short term and of having inflammatory diseases and cancer in the long term.

Meat and meat products may carry many microorganisms that infect meat during the stages of slaughtering, handling, processing, storing and transporting meat. 

The main microorganisms that may cause diseases to humans are Brucella, Leptospira, Campylobacter, Salmonella, Yersinia, as well as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, M. bovis, M. avium, Listeria monocytogenes, Francisella tularensis, foot and mouth disease virus, Toxoplasma gondii, Taeniarhynchus saginatus and Taenia solium (2).

Although these microorganisms remain in a dormant state during the frozen storage, they are able to revive and multiply as soon as the meat is taken from the freezer, during the thawing process (1).

Consuming spoiled meat or meat containing parasites can cause diseases and infections, of which symptoms can include fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain and nausea, dehydration and in severe cases, can lead to death (3).

The long term risk of eating meat after the expiration date is of developing inflammatory diseases, which can be caused by the consumption of oxidized fats. 

The lipids in meat oxidize during storage, as a natural consequence of chemical and enzymatic processes. These oxidative reactions generate compounds that characterize the rancid odors and off-flavors in oxidized meats and that are potentially toxic to humans (4). 

According to studies, long term consumption of oxidized fats can lead to diseases such as inflammatory diseases, as well as cancer, atherosclerosis and early aging. In addition, cholesterol oxidation products are known to be cytotoxic.

What is the shelf life of frozen meat?

The shelf life of frozen meat varies from months to years, depending on the meat type and composition and the storage conditions. The lower the storage temperature, the longer the shelf life (1).

The shelf life (in months) of different meat products are shown in the table below, according to the storage temperature:

Meat productshelf life at -12°C (10°F)shelf life at -18°C (0°F)shelf life at -24°C (-11°F)
Ground Beef61015
Beef steaks81824
Veal steaks61215
Pork steaks61015
Bacon (vacuum packed) 121212
Chicken (whole or cuts)91824

How to tell if frozen meat is spoiled?

To identify spoiled meat, you should be aware of possible signs of deterioration. Changes in the color, the texture or the generation of off-odors or gas – which is perceived by bloating of the packaging – are possible signs of spoilage.

The growth of bacteria may be indicated by green or gray-green colors of the surface. When lactic bacteria develop in the meat, they produce H2S from cysteine, generating an unpleasant odor and color. H2S oxidizes myoglobin to metmyoglobin, giving meat a green color (5).

Rotten meat may also be determined by the texture, and can be caused by the deterioration caused by psychrotrophic and psychrophilic. The best fresh meat is firm yet moist to the touch. Any signs of slime may be due to the growth of microorganisms (5).

Spoilage not occasioned by microorganisms can also occur. Lipid oxidation is one of the first degradative processes that occur during storage of fresh meat. 

In addition to adverse changes in the color, flavor and texture of meats, the autoxidation of unsaturated lipids and cholesterol results in the generation of aldehydes, ketones and other products characterizing rancidity and off-odors (6).

How to safely consume frozen meat after the expiration date?

To safely consume frozen meat after the expiration date, you should cook meat properly. In addition, you should follow the recommendation for safe thawing and handling meat, in order to prevent contaminations.

It is recommended to cook and consume the expired frozen meat as soon as it has been thawed.

To safely thaw meat, remove the meat from the freezer and place it in the refrigerator overnight. Alternatively, you can defrost meat in the microwave. 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, it is recommended to cook hamburgers and ground beef mixtures such as meat loaf to 160 °F (71.1 °C) and organ and variety meats (such as heart, kidney, liver and tongue) to 160 °F (71.1 °C). 

Beef steaks and roast should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F (62.8 °C). For safety, you should use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat before eating and allow the meat to rest for at least three minutes before consuming (7).

Other FAQs about Meat that you may be interested in.

Can you freeze cooked taco meat?

What’s the Difference between Barbacoa and Carnitas?


In this article, we answered the question “Can you eat frozen meat past its expiration date?”, and how long does meat last in the freezer?


  1. Evans, Judith A., ed. Frozen food science and technology. John Wiley & Sons, 2009.  
  2. Nørrung, Birgit, Jens Kirk Andersen, and Sava Buncic. Main concerns of pathogenic microorganisms in meat. Safety of meat and processed meat, 2009. 
  3. Lyashchuk, Yu O., et al. The study of persistence of microorganisms and parasites in food products. IOP Confer Ser Earth Environ Sci, 2021, 640, 6.  
  4. Vieira, Samantha A., Guodong Zhang, and Eric A. Decker. Biological implications of lipid oxidation products. J Am Oil Chem Soc, 2017, 94, 339-351.  
  5. Hernández-Macedo, Maria Lucila, Giovana Verginia Barancelli, and Carmen Josefina Contreras-Castillo. Microbial deterioration of vacuum-packaged chilled beef cuts and techniques for microbiota detection and characterization: a review. Braz J Microbiol, 2011, 42, 1-11.
  6. Gray, J. I., E. A. Gomaa, and D. J. Buckley. Oxidative quality and shelf life of meats. Meat sci, 1996, 43, 111-123.
  7. Beef from farm to table. United States Department of Agriculture.

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