Does storing meat in freezer for days cause cancer?

February 25, 2024 | 05:00 pm PT
My family often stores leftover meat in the freezer. However, some believe that eating meat stored in the freezer for a long time can increase the risk of cancer. Is this true? (Hong, 34, Hanoi)


The practice of storing leftover meat in the freezer is common among many families. There is a misconception that keeping meat in the freezer for an extended period can generate toxins that cause cancer; however, this belief is not supported by accurate information. It is true, though, that the longer meat is stored, its nutritional value decreases, which could increase the risk of toxin formation and potentially harm our health.

The maximum storage time for meat in the freezer depends on various factors, including the type of meat and the storage temperature. Temperature is the most critical factor. If the temperature is too high, the meat can spoil and rot due to being put in a favorable environment for bacterial growth. Conversely, if meat is stored at excessively low temperatures in the freezer, it can freeze, lose moisture, and undergo structural changes.

Storing leftover meat in the freezer is a common pratice. Illustration photo by Unsplash

Storing leftover meat in the freezer is a common pratice. Illustration photo by Unsplash

In general, meat packaged for export is stored in cold storage warehouses at very low temperatures, often around -50 degrees Celsius, and can be kept for up to six months. Household freezer compartments, which typically maintain temperatures from -12 to -18 degrees Celsius, allow meat to be stored safely for about a month. Thus, if your family stores meat in the freezer for up to a month and then thaws it properly, it should still be safe to consume.

Nevertheless, if meat is stored in the freezer for too long, microorganisms can adapt, becoming less active but still capable of slow development, which may lead to toxin production and the risk of other diseases.

Moreover, any type of food, not just meat, will undergo changes in its components if stored in the freezer for too long. While the meat may not show signs of spoilage, its taste and flavor cannot match that of fresh meat. It is advisable to consume the meat as soon as possible and avoid prolonged storage.

Dr. Nguyen Duy Thinh

Institute of Food Technology and Biotechnology, Hanoi University of Science and Technology

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