Sell-by date has no effect on meat once it’s thawed

Susan Selasky
Detroit Free Press (TNS)

Q: If I freeze meat a day before the sell-by date, how long can the meat thaw when I get it out later? If something is frozen days before the sell-by date, can it thaw longer?
- Chris Gleason, Fremont, Mich.

A: Freezing meat (or other foods that qualify) by the sell-by date is a good way to preserve it so it doesn’t go to waste. Keep in mind that just because a product has reached its sell-by or expire date, doesn’t mean it’s no longer good. Food waste is a timely topic because about 40 percent of all edible food is wasted, including food that is discarded when it’s still good.

The amount of time that meat can be thawed doesn’t depend on the sell-by date, according to

When thawing foods, meat in this case, it’s recommended that it be thawed in the refrigerator. Do not leave it out on the counter to thaw. When you do that, it becomes a food safety issue.

Highly perishable foods should not be left out more than two hours or they enter the bacteria danger zone. If you use the microwave to thaw food like meat, the USDA says you should cook it immediately once it’s thawed. The reason is that there might be some nearly cooked spots where bacteria can develop.

Meat that is frozen, depending on the size, will take at least one to two days to thaw completely in the refrigerator. Large cuts, like whole roasts and whole poultry products, will take longer. Once thawed use the meat within two to three days.

Most foods that are ideal for freezing can be kept in the freezer indefinitely, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is not a food safety issue, rather a quality issue.

When freezing meats and poultry, it’s best to keep them in their original wrapping and then wrap them well again with freezer-quality foil or plastic wrap. You can also put them in freezer quality plastic bags and squeeze out the air.

Do not refreeze items that were thawed in the microwave because they might have nearly cooked spots where bacteria could develop. When freezing and refreezing foods, wrap them well with freezer-quality plastic wrap and store them in freezer-quality bags for best results.

For more information, call the USDA’s Meat and Poultry hotline at 888-674-6854. They are open 10-6 p.m. weekdays year-round including limited hours Thanksgiving Day.