Flavorful meat is the basis of a hearty stew. Everything else that you add to the pot simply builds upon its taste. Stew meat should always be as fresh as possible, so if you are unable to cook it right away, freeze it. The freezing process stops the growth of dangerous bacteria that cause foodborne illness, keeping the stew meat safe to eat indefinitely -- even if it has been frozen for a year.
Fresh Stew Meat
In freezer temperatures of 0 degrees Fahrenheit and below, fresh stew meat keeps for three to four months. After this time, the stew meat is still safe to eat, but freshness continues to diminish as long as it remains frozen. Always keep fresh stew meat in the original packaging during freezing. For long-term freezer storage, wrap the stew meat in a second layer of airtight wrapping such as freezer wrap, heavy-duty aluminum foil or a plastic freezer bag.
Cooked Stew Meat
Cooking does not extend the freezing time of stew meat. In 0 degrees Fahrenheit, stew meat keeps up to three months before freshness is compromised. Although the stew meat remains safe for consumption after three months, taste and texture may become unfavorable. Store cooked stew meat in plastic freezer bags or wrapped in freezer wrap or heavy-duty foil. An airtight freezer container also helps to keep cooked stew meat fresher longer during freezing.
Thaw fresh and cooked stew meat in the refrigerator to guard against bacterial growth. Transfer the stew meat from the freezer to the refrigerator 24 hours before cooking to ensure ample thawing time. When in a pinch, place the frozen stew meat in a moisture-proof plastic bag and set it in a bowl of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until thawed. Microwaving is another safe thawing option. After thawing the stew meat in cold water or the microwave, cook immediately.
Cooked or fresh, stew meat is only safe to eat for a limited time at room temperature. Outside of the refrigerator and freezer, bacteria that exists on the meat begins to reproduce rapidly. In temperatures above 40 F, enough bacteria is produced to render the stew meat unsafe for consumption after only two hours. Left in temperatures of 90 F and above, stew meat only lasts an hour before it needs to be discarded.
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