Supermarket meats tend to come in one of two different types of packages. Traditionally, you will find them in a Styrofoam or plastic tray, sometimes with an absorbent pad underneath, and over-wrapped with a thin plastic wrap. You may also find them in vacuum sealed packages as I described in the article Can You Age Beef at Home?. There is also modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), or controlled atmosphere packaging (CAP), which replace some or all the oxygen in the package with other gases such as carbon dioxide or nitrogen. All these types of packages can be safely placed right into the freezer. However, for the traditional meat tray with thin plastic film packaged meats, you will want to observe some cautions.
Meat sealed in vacuum packaging or modified atmosphere packaging can be placed directly into the freezer and stored safely for a long period of time. The meat will be safe indefinitely, but, over time, quality may degrade.
It is also safe to freeze meat in its supermarket wrapping, as described above. However, the thin plastic film used to wrap meats is permeable to air, which means that meats stored directly in this packaging will start to become freezer burned within a few weeks to a month. The meat will still be safe to eat but the gray freezer-burned portions will affect the quality and taste of the meat. If widespread freezer burn occurs, the quality may be so bad you will have to discard the meat. If only superficial freezer burn occurs, you can easily cut it off of the thawed meat. The grayish-brown spots of freezer burn are caused by the meat being dehydrated by the extremely dry air of the freezer.
Best Way to Package Meats for the Freezer
If you want to store supermarket packaged meats for the longest period possible, the best method is to use a high quality vacuum sealer.
Otherwise, it is best to over-wrap them with an additional layer of protection. You can place the meat package directly into gallon sized Ziploc freezer bags, but these will eventually let in air, as well. The best way to protect these meats for long term freezer storage is to over-wrap the package (you do not need to remove the meat) directly with heavy-duty aluminum foil, making sure to get a good seal, or with freezer wrap. You are not protecting the meat from the “cold” but from the air. In general, if you’re trying to figure out how to freeze your meat for long term storage use this simple rule: When in doubt, wrap it!