In order to maintain meat quality and to ensure meat is safe for consumption, the following points provide a useful guide when preparing Australian red meat:

• keep meat refrigerated or frozen
• thaw meat in a refrigerator or microwave; not at room temperature or in water
• keep meat separate from other foods
• minimise the length of time that meat is left out of the refrigerator prior to cooking to prevent spoilage
• wash working surfaces, cutting boards and utensils with hot soapy water before and after touching any meat to ensure hygiene when preparing meals
• refrigerate leftovers immediately
• refrigerator temperature for storing meat should be set at 4ºC to 5ºC, while the ideal freezer temperature is -15ºC to -18ºC

Australian meat in vacuum bags

Vacuum packaging is a storage method that works well for fresh or frozen red meat as it helps to keep meat fresh for longer periods if properly refrigerated or frozen.

Meat stored chilled in the coldest part of the refrigerator can last for up to two weeks in a vacuum bag, or in the freezer if storing for a longer period. Once the bag is opened, expect the meat colour to change from a purple/red to a pinkish/red.

Australian meat in plastic bags or retail tray packs

Store red meat in the coldest part of the refrigerator, usually at the bottom or lowest shelf. Keep the meat covered and dry to prevent moisture loss, ideally in the original wrapping.

Plastic will make red meat sweat, although if you intend to cook the meat on the day of purchase, there isn't any need to take it out of the plastic wrap. However, if you are planning to store it longer, the meat should be transferred to a non-plastic dish and loosely covered with foil or plastic wrap to allow some air flow.

Freezing

It is highly recommended that your selected cut of Australian red meat is eaten on the day of purchase; however, it can be stored frozen. Recommended storage times relate to taste and flavour quality more than food safety. After a certain period of time, frozen food starts to dry out, so the smaller the item of food, the faster the drying effect; that's why, for example, it's recommended to freeze minced beef for up to 3 months, and roasts for up to 6 months. Beyond this time, the red meat will be safe to eat but quite dry.

Re-freezing defrosted red meat is not recommended unless it is cooked first, for a number of reasons:

• the quality suffers each time frozen red meat is defrosted and refrozen
• freezing creates ice crystals within the structure of the meat, as red meat contains a high percentage of water, these ice crystals rupture the fibre causing the meat to bleed when defrosted, and therefore causing the texture to become dry
• the risk of microbial may increase as a result of refreezing red meat without cooking it first

Basic tips for handling red meat

• always check the use-by-date for food and red meat; if in doubt throw it out
• cover raw red meat
• use correct chilling, re-heating and freezing procedures at all times
• always monitor your products based on the FIFO (first in first out) system
• food that is cooked but not consumed must be chilled to below 3ºC or less in under two hours
• if chilled red meat is not intended for use on the day after purchase, it is advisable to freeze the meat, but only freeze it once
• thaw out red meat in the chiller section of the refrigerator for at least one day before consumption
• do not thaw frozen meat at room temperature outside the refrigerator, or dip the frozen red meat in warm water as this process encourages micro-organisms to grow and can contaminate the meat