Freezing meat is a great way of stocking up on food and of reducing waste in the kitchen. It may even play a central role in your zero waste kitchen, where waste containing meat is not easily compostable at home. But, how to go about it when trying to avoid plastics? That’s exactly what we’ll be discussing in this article on how to freeze meat without plastic.
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Why freezing meat with plastic is not ideal
Meat is commonly frozen in airtight or vacuum-sealed disposable freezer bags made out of plastic. Some also opt for cellophane. While effective at protecting the meat from freezer burn, they are all terrible for the environment and pose a threat to our health.
Where the environment is concerned, single-use plastics like disposable freezer bags and cellophane generate a lot of waste. What’s more, single-use plastics like freezer bags cannot be recycled when we are done with them. As a result, they are most likely destined for landfills as soon as we pick them up off the shelves. That is, if they don’t wind up in the ocean with the rest of the estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste that finds its way into our seas every year; or into the bellies of marine life that wind up dying from starvation.
Plastics also pose a danger to our health. In my article on plastic-free storage containers, we explored just how using these ubiquitous plastic products can expose us to harmful compounds like Bisphenol A (BPA) and other toxins. Made using synthetic organic polymers from petroleum, plastic storage containers expose us to harmful chemicals by leaching compounds into our food, particularly when exposed to heat. In fact, it is recommended that we avoid heating food in plastics. That is no microwaving food even in microwave-safe containers.
If you were banking on reusing disposable freezer bags, that is also not recommended because degradation caused by washing may also be a concern.
It's safe to say that avoiding plastic storage containers is best. But, if you still have lots of plastic containers in your kitchen like many of us do, you don’t have to toss them out. Finish using them but beware of grease stains and scratches; they are a good indication that your plastic containers are worn.
When you’re ready to discard them, make sure to recycle them or to try turning them into something new using my article on what to do with old plastic containers (none of which involves your food).
Plastic free storage containers that are perfect for freezing meat without plastic
When freezing foods in general, the objective is to keep as much air and ambient moisture away from the food as possible. If done incorrectly, food is susceptible to freezer burn. That’s one of the reasons why plastic freezer bags or vacuum-sealed bags work super well.
We can easily keep as much air away from the food as possible, while retaining as much freshness as possible, for as long as possible.
However, there are some great plastic-free alternatives that also work well to protect meat from freezer burn, without environmental or health hazards.
Here are my top picks for plastic-free, reusable, freezer-friendly containers:
Reusable silicone bags
While they are technically plastic, reusable silicone bags are a much better alternative to plastic wrap and freezer bags. For one, they are actually designed to be reused, and have been found to be a lot safer than even their tougher, hard-shelled, Tupperware counterparts; all while offering the same benefit of easily getting as much air away from the meat as possible.
They will last much longer than plastic wrap or freezer bags too and work a lot more efficiently to reduce the transmission of air and moisture vapor since they are a lot thicker and more durable.
Well.ca offers a great selection of Stasher reusable silicone bags, in a variety of sizes and colors.
Tempered glass containers with airtight lids
A go-to option when it comes to plastic-free storage containers, tempered glass works well in the freezer too.
In this case, it’s especially important to remember that all glass is not created equal. Tempered glass or glass that can withstand freezing is crucial. When shopping, just consult the packaging or the product description for tempered glass or freezer-safe options.
Also, make sure to look for a container with an airtight lid that will create the tight seal you need to keep as much of the air and odors from the freezer away from the contents inside of the container.
Most importantly though, remember not to fill glass containers of any kind to the brim, by leaving a little bit of room at the top to avoid any broken glass in your freezer. With that, you’ve got yourself a simple, plastic-free option that may already be in your home.
Stainless steel containers with airtight lids also make a great option if you’re wondering how to store meat in the freezer without plastic. They are perfect for leftovers and raw meat. Brands like Life Without Plastic offer a variety of airtight options perfect for freezing, in various sizes to accommodate your needs as well.
But the BEST freezer-friendly option has to be Onyx. I own a few of these and they are amazing! They are airtight and you can use them in the freezer and the oven. The quality is the best I have used, I could not recommend them more!
For an added layer of protection, compostable parchment paper is a great option. Just like compostable trash bags, compostable parchment paper is biodegradable and can be added to your compost heap at home. Just make sure to cut it up into small pieces when you’re ready to compost it, just like you would your veggie scraps and other compostable waste.
For freezing, wrap your meat in compostable parchment paper before placing it in the tempered glass, or stainless steel container of your choice. Some items like a whole chicken may be a bit difficult to handle here so this is probably best for more manageable cuts of meat.
Buy and Freeze vacuum-packed meat
While this is not plastic-free in any regard, products that are already in vacuum-packed bags work very well for freezing. If this is what is available to you, popping them right in the freezer without any additional layers works too.
You can also freeze meat in other types of packaging, however, the quality of the meat will deteriorate much faster than that of meat kept in airtight or vacuum-sealed containers.
Step by step guide on how to freeze meat without plastic
What you’ll need:
- Airtight containers of your choice
- Something to write the date with to label your containers
- A very cold freezer (0°F or -17.78°C or lower)
- A thermostat to regulate your freezer’s temperature (optional)
At the store
Make sure you buy meat before its ‘sell by date’ to get the most out of your money and efforts. You may also want to consider buying from your local butcher or directly at the meat counter for the freshest products. There, you can also bring your own stainless steel container or glass container, ask for the tare, and have your meat placed directly in the container without any plastic trays, plastic wrap or butcher paper.
Get right to it!
If you’re planning to freeze meat, get right to it. No intermissions in the refrigerator outside of the unforeseen.
Make a little plan
First, decide what meat will go in which container before getting started. This is also an opportunity to portion out meat like ground beef or chicken breasts into servings that work best for your household or plans, so do consider that as well.
Gather your materials
Once you’ve decided what you’ll do, get your containers ready, and don’t forget something with which to write the date and label your containers.
Make some room in your freezer
If you need to make some room in your freezer, consider doing this before handling the meat as well. And, where possible, go straight for the coldest part of the freezer; which tends to be the bottom shelves or drawers.
Prepare your meat for the freezer and label them
If you’re using silicone bags, make sure to get as much of the air out as possible by placing the bag and its contents on the counter, partially closing the zipper, guiding the air out with your hands, and then closing it completely. It’s okay if you don’t get every single air bubble out. Just do your best.
If you’re using stainless steel or tempered glass containers, put the meat directly in the container (remembering to leave some room in the glass containers) and make sure they are properly sealed when you fasten the lid.
Once you’ve prepared all your meat for the freezer, label them with the date for future reference. I promise it will save you from lots of squinting and brain-racking moments in front of the freezer.
Pop them in the freezer
With that done, you should now be ready to pop your items into the freezer. If you can, make sure to place them in the coldest part of the freezer as I mentioned before. This will help with retaining freshness but also prevent freezer burn. You can also keep a thermostat in there to make sure the temperature is always at 0°F (-17.78°C) or below.
Other things to keep in mind:
If this is something you want to do to keep a stash of meat at your disposal all the time, remember to rotate the contents in the back of your freezer to the front and restock accordingly.
It’s also important to remember that while frozen meat remains safe to eat indefinitely (when kept at a temperature of 0° Fahrenheit (-17.78°C) or lower), its quality will definitely degrade as time passes, even when using the best freezing techniques.
For more specific details on that, check out the FDA’s Refrigerator & Freezer Storage Chart. You may not get the exact same results using plastic-free options, but your frozen meat should last between 2-4 months. Healthline also recommends only buying what you need, making sure to consume it within 2-4 months as well.
Can you freeze cooked meat without plastic?
Similarly, you can freeze cooked meat and meat dishes without plastic using any of the plastic-free alternatives discussed above. However, cooked meat does not retain its freshness for as long as fresh meat does. Generally, cooked meat and meat dishes last about 2-3 months in the freezer, whereas a raw piece of chicken can last up to 9 months, and a raw piece of steak, up to 12 months.
Freezing cooked meat is still a great option to avoid food waste and to save time on meal prep.
To prevent freezer burn when it comes to cooked meat, we are still following the same principle as we would for raw meat: keep air and odors out. For that use containers with an airtight seal which will help to form an airtight barrier around the contents when shut and stored away for freezing.
Temperature is also key. Try keeping your freezer at 0° Fahrenheit (-17.78°C) where food will freeze faster and make the freezing process less likely to affect the quality of the food. Using leftovers within a reasonable amount of time is arguably the best way to avoid freezer burn, however.
Final notes on how to freeze meat without plastic
Whether you’re looking to figure out how to freeze meat without plastic bags, how to reduce waste in the kitchen, or just how to freeze meat in general, there are lots of simple, plastic-free solutions to help. And, you don’t even have to sacrifice the environment or your health in the process!
Definitely leave a little room to figure out what works best for you, and thank you for doing your part to reduce your environmental footprint!
If you’d like to learn more about improving sustainability in the kitchen, consider exploring some energy-saving cooking tips, some eco-friendly pots and pans, or check out the eBook I put together for a complete guide to detoxing your kitchen.
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