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A Guide to Meat Packaging for Optimal Freezing and Storage

February 16, 2024

In the land of long distances and pristine pastures, ensuring meat retains its farm-fresh flavour and texture throughout the journey from paddock to plate is paramount. While home cooks might chuck a steak in the freezer, the New Zealand meat industry demands meticulous attention to packaging and freezing to maintain quality, safety, and value. 

Called freezing works, they are in charge of the most important phase of the meat processing chain – The START!

This guide delves into the art and science of meat freezing, catering specifically to our Kiwi friends involved in every link of the chain – from freezing works to butcher shops and kitchens.

Preparing Meat for the Deep Freeze at the Freezing Works:

Before the journey begins, ensuring proper hygiene and quality is crucial. This means adhering to the Animal Products Act 1999 and the Animal Welfare Act 1999 for humane slaughter and high sanitation standards.

  • Chill Quickly: After slaughter, maintain meat between 0°C and 4°C for 24 hours, not exceeding this time or temperature until packaging.
  • Trim Wisely: Remove excess fat, bone, and cartilage to minimise the risk of rancidity, freezer burn, and contamination.
  • Portion Control: Divide meat into suitable serving sizes and portions based on cooking methods. Clearly label each with name, date, and weight for easy identification.

Choosing the Perfect Packaging

The right packaging acts as a protective shield, safeguarding the meat during transportation and storage while meeting consumer needs.

  • Material Matters: Opt for materials that create a barrier against air, moisture, light, and water. Avoid breathable and absorbent materials like paper or cloth. Frozen meat requires water-resistant options like plastic, foil, or wax.
  • Quality and Standards: Ensure packaging adheres to relevant regulations like the Foods Standards Code and the AS/NZS 9001 standard for quality management systems.
  • Design and Fit: Consider the intended use, shelf life, and convenience. Fresh or cured meat needs clear, visible packaging for easy viewing and opening. Frozen meat requires a tight, sealed fit to avoid air pockets and freezer burn.

Popular Packaging Methods

  • Vacuum Sealing: One of the most revolutionary forms of packing when it hit the market. When you remove the air, you give the meat around an extra 10 days before spoiling. For frozen meats, you are looking at an increased life span of around 1 year more, with no oxidation or microbial growth. extending shelf life for fresh meat up to 10 days and frozen meat over a year by inhibiting microbial growth and oxidation.
  • Shrink Wrapping: Tightly conforms to the meat’s shape, extending shelf life for fresh meat by up to 7 days and frozen meat by up to 9 months by minimising air exposure, moisture loss, and freezer burn.

Freezing for Perfection

  • Time and Temperature: Freeze at -18 °C or lower within 24 hours of packaging. The faster the freeze, the smaller the ice crystals formed, preserving texture and quality.
  • Packing Arrangements: Ensure space for air circulation by placing boxes on a single layer with even spacing on a solid, flat surface.
  • Storage and Handling: Maintain constant temperature after freezing and avoid fluctuations. Wait to stack frozen meat until it is fully solidified.

SUMMARY

Remember: By following these steps, you’re protecting the quality and value of New Zealand’s prized meat and ensuring a delicious and satisfying experience for every consumer. Whether you’re a freezing works processor, butcher, or chef, let this guide be your compass on the journey to freezing excellence. If you don’t have the right equipment for the job, get online and find it. There are a plethora of sealing and packaging products available. Good Luck