During the fall, hunters always want to “fill the freezer”. That is great, but how long can we actually store wild game in a freezer? Some of us try our best to literally fill our freezers full of venison and decrease the amount of meat we need to buy from the store throughout the year. However, if you do not store it correctly, it may not last all year. In this article, I am going to go over everything you need to know about storing venison correctly so that you can eat it year-round.
According to the USDA uncooked frozen venison should be consumed within 12 months. Consume within 4 months for the best quality. Cooked meats should not stay frozen for more than 3 months. Wild game can still be good after the 12-month mark if it is properly stored and checked thoroughly before consumption.
With that being said, let’s take a deeper look at how exactly you are supposed to store venison, and how to tell if it does go bad.
Before the Freezer
Before you butcher and freeze your deer, you need to take care of it properly. If your deer meat has ever tasted “gamey”, it is likely because of poor preparation before cooking. After you shoot a deer, it should be recovered within 45 minutes. You then need to gut it and quarter it shortly thereafter.
Once you have your deer quartered you need to put it on ice in a cooler. Don’t forget those backstraps. You need to make sure your cooler has a drain plug. When you get it home you want to put it on a slight incline by putting something under the opposite side of the drain plug on the cooler. Then open the drain plug and allow the meat to age in the cooler for 7 days.
The draining lets out any water that accumulates from the ice, which will grow bad bacteria if it does not drain off. The purpose of aging like this is to naturally tenderize the meat and remove that “gamey” taste.
For a more detailed guide on preparing your meat before cooking or freezing, you can visit my guide here: Why Does Deer Meat Taste Gamey?
When you start the butchering process, it is also important that you remove as much fat as you can. Deer fat is not like beef or pork fat, it does not taste good. If you leave it in your cuts it will produce a bitter taste. You do not have to get every tiny piece off but do your best.
How to Properly Store Deer Meat in the Freezer
Once you have your aged meat butchered the way you like it, it is time to freeze. The first thing you are going to need is freezer bags. Preferably, they would be vacuum sealed. If they are not, then you need to make sure you get as much air out of the bag as possible. Also, make sure that you put the date on the bag so you know how old it is when you go to cook it.
The whole reason we want the bags vacuum sealed is to remove air, which causes freezer burn. However freezer burn does not make food unsafe to eat, it only dries it out and decreases the quality of the meat(USDA).
What I have always done is use the quart-size freezer bags with a vacuum sealer. You do not want to lump too much meat together in one bag, so the smaller bag is best. Plus, if you put enough for a family meal in a quart-size bag, you can simply unfreeze a single bag and not have to worry about refreezing any meat.
According to the University of Georgia, you want to freeze your venison at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Then consume within 3 months for the best quality. It is not much more complicated than that. Prepare it correctly, vacuum seal it, and you are set for a good while.
What Is the Ideal Shelf Life of Frozen Deer Meat?
As we have seen from the USDA and UGA, the recommended maximum time to keep venison frozen is 12 months. For the best quality, you will want to consume it within 3 months of freezing. These are the national recommendations, but many of us have eaten venison that was much older than a year.
I cannot say whether or not your particular piece of 2 or 3-year-old venison is good to eat, but I have eaten meat that old and I turned out mostly okay. Let’s take a look at what makes frozen food turn bad and how you can spot it.
How Can You Tell if Frozen Deer Meat Is Bad?
There are a number of things that can happen to meat while it is in the freezer that will make it go bad. The following is a list of these items that you can look at to know if your deer meat has gone bad.
- If it has a gray color – spots of a gray color can be an indication of freezer burn. If it is gray all over, the meat has likely gone bad.
- Frozen liquids in the bag – if there is liquid that has frozen, it came from the meat being defrosted and refrozen. This could have been due to a power outage or other circumstances. It may still be good to eat if it has a good color, but be wary.
- It has a slimy film – if you defrost the meat and it has a slimy feeling, it is spoiled. The meat should be wet of course, but overly slimy means there is a problem.
- Sewage-like smell – if your meat has a sewage-like smell to it, then it has a bacterial problem and has gone bad.
- Power Outage – if power to your freezer goes out for too long it will make the meat go bad. Try to refrain from opening the freezer door when the power is out, this keeps it cold inside. After power is restored, check to see if the meat is defrosted. If it is, it may go bad. If there are still ice crystals on the meat it should be fine.
What Happens if You Eat Spoiled Venison?
Eating spoiled meat of any kind is a bad idea. If you are iffy on whether your meat is good, you should just throw it away. Cooking spoiled meat does not make it better. The damage has already been done.
If you decide to eat spoiled meat, you can get very sick. There are countless kinds of bacteria that could infect you, and parasites are a real possibility. The truth is, it is just not worth the chance. You are better off going to Zaxby’s.
Assuming you prepare venison correctly, and put it in vacuum-sealed freezer bags, you can store it for over 12 months. For the best quality, you should cook it before it gets older than 3 months. If you do not have a way to vacuum seal the bags, it is not the end of the world, just try to get as much air out of the bag as possible. Before cooking any meat, you always need to check to make sure it is still good. Make sure it has a good color, smell, and texture before consuming.
Sister Post – Why Does Deer Meat Taste Gamey?
A sister post is just another post on Omega Outdoors that I think you will enjoy after reading this one. To get a better idea of how to prepare your meat before butchering and freezing, check out my other article titled Why Does Deer Meat Taste Gamey.