Despite some claims, vacuum-sealed meat has to be stored under very specific conditions, i.e. the fridge or the freezer.
Claims that state otherwise is often one of the biggest reasons people have to search for “signs of spoiled meat.”
So, whatever your reason is, today we look at the common question, “How to tell if vacuum-sealed meat is bad?” First of all, you can look at the condition of the seal. If the bag is loose or puffed up tightly, it means that bacteria is present on the inside.
Other signs of spoilage include mold growth, a slimy layer on the surface of the meat or inside the bag, and a sour rotten smell that spills out as you open the packet.
In this educational article, we will not only take a look at the common signs of spoiled vacuum-sealed meat but also how to properly store the meat in the fridge and freezer to start with. And we’ve included some answers to popular related questions on this topic.
What Is Vacuum Sealed Meat?
Vacuum sealing, also known as vacuum packing, is a technology that has been around for quite some time. But unfortunately, it’s not since recent years that it has become more easily accessible to the general population.
And like with most appliances, manufacturers don’t really care to explain how to properly use the tool or how to store the sealed product afterward.
For this reason, we are asked on an almost daily basis, “I vacuum sealed by meat, but it still went bad. Why?” Or something along the lines of, “How can I tell if my meat has gone bad before breaking the vacuum packet?”
So today, we will first start by explaining what vacuum sealing is. This should help you better understand its limits.
Vacuum packing is a preservation technique that utilizes a special tool. This appliance helps remove air from a package in order to remove the oxygen. When oxygen is removed, bacteria cannot reproduce quickly, and therefore, the ingredients inside are preserved.
There are different levels at which you can vacuum seal. The more air you remove, the longer the item will last. HOWEVER, some levels also ruin the ingredients inside.
Let’s take an egg as an example. If you vacuum seal an egg until it snugly seals around the shell, it will last, for example, three months. However, if you remove more air than needed, it can crack the egg slightly. This ultimately shortens the shelf life and the egg.
Varying Shelf Lives
Now, here’s the thing about vacuum sealing. While it is an excellent way to preserve food, the type of food that you seal will have different shelf lives.
For example, if you store pickled cucumbers and fresh meat in EXACTLY the same way (and obviously sealed them in the same way as well), the meat will always spoil before the pickled vegetables do.
The vacuum seal will help meat last longer than if it is simply packed in brown paper and stored in the fridge. But it’s not a miracle solution.
This is arguably the biggest reason so many people are confused or shocked when they open the package and are hit in the face with a rotting smell.
How Long Does Vacuum-Sealed Meat Last?
If you vacuum seal fresh meat, it will last inside the fridge for roughly 2 weeks. If you simply store fresh meat without the air-tight storage method, it only lasts a day or two, maybe three.
If you store vacuum-sealed meat inside the freezer, it will last between 2-3 years instead of 6-12 months.
This timeline is essential! And keep in mind that it will change depending on how you store the meat and how consistent the storage conditions are.
How to Tell If Vacuum-Sealed Meat Is Bad?
Okay, so before jumping into the exact method of storing vacuum-sealed meat, let’s discuss the main topic: How do you tell when vacuum-packed meat has gone bad?
Knowing this will help prevent you from opening rotting or rotten meat. And even more importantly, it can help prevent you from introducing that bacteria to other fresh produce.
It is a little tricky to see whether or not vacuum-sealed meat has spoiled while it’s still inside its package. However, if any of the following signs show, you can be assured that the meat has gone bad (or has started going bad).
1. First, if the bag is no longer tightly sealed and you can easily move the meat around inside, the seal has been broken. This likely means that the meat has started to go off. If you aren’t sure, you can check for other signs of spoiled meat listed below.
2. If the vacuum bag is puffed up, it means that bacteria inside produced a large quantity of CO2. At this point, the meat is definitely not safe to eat anymore and should be discarded.
3. If you notice a slimy film on the inside of the bag (no matter how tightly the bag is sealed), you should rather discard it. The slimy film is a by-product of bacterial growth and reproduction. At this point, again, the meat is no longer safe to eat.
4. And finally, the other very obvious sign of spoiled meat is if it shows any mold. Meat, even when vacuum sealed, should have a pinkish-red color that is uniform. The fat or marbling should also be a bright white color. This color does fade or darken a little with time, so it’s especially important to then check the other signs of spoilage.
Now, if you don’t see any obvious signs mentioned above, you will likely need to open the bag to check.
You should immediately smell the meat. Fresh meat is pretty much odorless. So, if you notice anything different, it is best to chuck the meat away.
Rotting meats can smell sour, rancid, rotten, or acidic. None of these are good or safe.
The smell factor gets a little more difficult when it comes to marinades or cured meats. They often produce stranger smells that may not be rotten or sour. But again, anything other than what it originally smelled like is likely, not good.
Now, keeping this in mind, vacuum-sealed meat will have an odd smell to it. It’s almost tangy, but not off like sour or rotten.
If you ever have doubts, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
How to Properly Store Vacuum Sealed Meat
Now, despite what many people claim, you should NOT store vacuum-sealed meat at room temperature. While it technically does deter bacterial growth, it won’t prevent it completely, especially not when working with fresh meat.
So, always store meat inside of a fridge with a stable working temperature. Fluctuations, however tiny, can cause the shelf life to shorten.
Always store the raw vacuum-sealed meat in the raw meat section. Don’t store it close to raw produce like vegetables, fruits, eggs, or dairy. While it is safely sealed, you don’t want to risk exposing those ingredients to bacteria if the seal accidentally broke.
Your meat will last up to 2 weeks.
How to Freeze Vacuum Sealed Meat
If you freeze meat that has been vacuum sealed, wrap it in a couple of layers of foil. The foil will help prevent excessive freezer burn that can ruin the texture and flavor of the meat once thawed and cooked.
Furthermore, it’s crucial to always use frozen meat as soon as possible. This avoids the issue completely and results in the best quality you can get.
If you freeze meat, always label it with the freezing date and estimated use-by date.
You should also ensure that the freezer runs at a stable temperature. Again, any fluctuations can shorten the shelf life of the meat, especially if it freezes and thaws continuously.
If My Meat was Tightly Sealed, Why Is It Spoiled?
Just because you think the meat is sealed doesn’t make it so. There could be a tiny hole in the packet that allows oxygen to enter and bacteria to grow. So, even if the bag is puffed up or loose, it doesn’t prevent bacteria from growing. Another reason could be that the meat was simply kept for too long. Or it’s just an old piece of meat.
Why Does the Vacuum-Sealed Meat Smell Bad, but It Looks Fresh?
Remember, vacuum-sealing meat will leave it with a slightly tangy odor. There are tricks you can try to remove it, but it pretty much goes away after cooking. That being said, if the meat truly smells sour or rotten, it’s best to throw it out. Don’t risk ingesting spoiled meat.
Can Bacteria Grow in Vacuum-Sealed Meat Packages?
As we’ve discussed throughout this entire article, bacteria can still grow inside vacuum-sealed packets. To be more specific, facultative anaerobic and anaerobic bacteria can grow in this environment. In the simplest explanation, it’s able to survive with and without oxygen.