Can you eat deer meat that has been frozen for 2 years?

Freezing meat is a great way to preserve it for longer periods of time. However, there is always the question of just how long frozen meat will stay safe to eat. When it comes to venison or deer meat, most recommendations say it will last about 1 year in a freezer before quality starts to decline. But what if it has been frozen for 2 years or longer? Here is a look at whether deer meat is still safe to eat after freezing for extended periods of time.

How Long Does Deer Meat Last in the Freezer?

Most sources recommend using venison within 9-12 months for best quality when frozen at 0°F or below. The USDA recommends using frozen wild game within a year. However, they also note that deer meat can technically be safely eaten indefinitely when properly stored in the freezer.

So while frozen deer meat may still be safe beyond 1 year, the quality and texture will start to decline the longer it sits in the freezer. Freezer burn can dry out the meat, giving it an unappetizing taste and texture.

Proper Storage Temperatures

To maintain quality and maximize shelf life, venison should be stored at 0°F or lower. At -10°F, the meat may last up to 2 years before serious degradation. At slightly warmer temperatures near 0°F, plan on using the deer meat within 12-18 months for best flavor and texture.

At higher freezer temperatures near 28°F, the quality of the frozen venison will start to go downhill faster. Use deer meat stored at these temperatures within 4-6 months to avoid substantial deterioration.

Freezer Burn

One of the biggest factors impacting frozen deer meat quality is freezer burn. This occurs when air reaches the meat surface and causes dehydration. Areas of the venison will turn grayish-brown and take on a dry, leathery texture.

Freezer burn does not make the meat unsafe, but it definitely leads to off-flavors and poor texture. To avoid freezer burn on stored deer meat:

  • Package the venison airtight in materials designed for long freezer storage.
  • Remove as much air as possible prior to sealing.
  • Ensure the venison is solidly frozen throughout before packaging.
  • Avoid freezing large cuts. Package as individual steaks, chops, etc.
  • Use freezer paper between pieces to prevent them adhering together.
  • Place deer meat packages close together in the freezer to reduce air exposure.

Proper Sanitation

In addition to storage temperatures and packaging, maintaining cleanliness and sanitation is key for long freezer storage. Be sure to:

  • Clean knives, tables, and other tools thoroughly before and after butchering deer.
  • Keep your hands washed while handling the raw venison.
  • Prevent cross-contamination by keeping deer meat separate from other foods.
  • Rapidly chill deer meat in a refrigerator before packaging for freezing.
  • Use clean, food-grade packaging materials that are undamaged.

Following these sanitation practices helps prevent the growth of bacteria that could compromise safety and quality.

Can You Safely Eat Deer Meat Frozen for 2 Years?

While the quality of venison suffers the longer it is frozen, deer meat that has been properly stored at 0°F for 2 years or longer should still be safe to eat.

The USDA states that frozen foods remain safe indefinitely. However, they do note quality issues can develop with lengthy freezer storage. Freezer burn, rancid fats, and degraded texture are concerns.

As long as the deer meat shows no signs of spoilage, it can be safely cooked and eaten after being frozen for 2 years. Look for these indications of spoilage:

  • Unpleasant, off odors
  • Sliminess
  • Discoloration or unappealing grayish tones
  • Dry, flaky texture
  • Mold growth

Venison with these qualities should be discarded. But if the frozen deer meat still looks and smells normal, go ahead and use it.

Cooking and Palatability

While long-frozen venison may not be dangerous to eat, the eating quality is likely to be poor. Expect a tougher texture and more pronounced gamey flavor.

To compensate, use extra care when cooking the older deer meat:

  • Defrost slowly in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
  • Marinate the meat in an acidic liquid to help tenderize.
  • Cook venison thoroughly to at least 160°F internal temperature.
  • Use slow, moist cooking methods like stewing or braising.
  • Add extra moisture during cooking with broth, sauce, etc.

Follow these guidelines, and venison that has been frozen for 2 years should still be edible. But the taste and texture will be marginal compared to properly stored meat less than a year old.

Deer Processing and Packaging Tips

To get the longest freezer life and best quality from your venison, start with proper field dressing, butchering, and packaging techniques.

Field Care

After harvesting the deer, the first priority is rapid, proper field dressing. Remove intestines and inedible viscera as soon as possible. Wipe out body cavity thoroughly with clean cloths. This rapid field cleaning helps cool the carcass and prevent spoilage.

If temperature allows, you can hang the deer meat for up to a week after field dressing to age. Otherwise, get the venison chilled down to at least 40°F within the first 24 hours.


Once ready to start cutting, be sure all tools and surfaces are meticulously clean. Follow standard game butchering procedures for skinning, quartering, and deboning.

Trim away any bruised, damaged, or contaminated meat. Remove all silverskin, sinew, shot damaged portions, etc. Boning out the deer allows packing individual cuts that freeze quickly.


Venison intended for long freezer storage should be packaged properly to prevent quality loss. Here are some tips:

  • Cut meat into usable sizes based on recipe needs.
  • Wrap each piece individually in heavy-duty aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap.
  • Remove as much air as possible and seal tightly.
  • Label packages clearly with cut and date.
  • Group together in larger bags or plastic containers.

With proper packaging, the venison should easily keep for a year. Well-wrapped cuts may last for 2 years without too much additional quality loss.

Thawing and Refreezing Venison

For deer meat that is nearing the limit of recommended freezer time, you may wonder about defrosting and refreezing unused portions. Here are some guidelines on whether it is safe to refreeze thawed venison.

Refreezing Thawed Deer Meat

According to the USDA, venison that has been properly defrosted in the refrigerator can be safely refrozen without much quality loss. Place the thawed venison back in the freezer promptly before it has a chance to spoil.

When frozen, thawed, and refrozen, expect some degradation in texture and moisture content. But the venison should still be safe to eat.

Never Refreeze Spoiled Meat

However, meat that has been left out too long and starts to spoil should never be refrozen. The bacteria that cause food-borne illness can start multiplying even at refrigerator temperatures. Refreezing will not kill them.

Look for slime, off-smells, or an unpleasant appearance. If the thawed venison seems spoiled in any way, discard it.

Tips for Thawing and Refreezing

To safely thaw and refreeze venison:

  • Defrost frozen deer meat slowly in the refrigerator, allowing 1-2 days.
  • Cook thawed cuts immediately, or refreeze within 1-2 days.
  • Mark refrozen packages with “previously frozen” date.
  • Use refrozen venison within the next 1-2 months for quality.
  • Never defrost on countertop or in standing water.
  • Watch for signs of spoilage during thawing.

Following these guidelines, you can safely refreeze venison one time after thawing. But the quality will likely be lower than fresh frozen meat.

Other Storage Times for Venison

In addition to freezing, deer meat can also be preserved through other methods when frozen storage time is up. Here are some other storage times for venison cuts and preparations:

Cured Venison

Cured meats like venison jerky, sausage, or salami can keep for 1-2 months refrigerated or up to 1 year frozen.

Canned Venison

Home canned venison in jars processed for 90 minutes will keep 2-5 years at room temperature.

Cooked Venison

Leftover cooked dishes and casseroles with deer meat can keep 3-4 days refrigerated or 2-3 months in the freezer.

Ground Venison

Fresh ground venison keeps 1-2 days in the fridge or 3-4 months in the freezer.

Venison Roast/Steaks

Raw venison roast, steaks, etc. will keep 3-5 days refrigerated and 6-12 months frozen.

Knowing these shelf lives can help you salvage older venison by turning it into jerky, canning, cooking, or immediate use when freezer times approach the 1-2 year mark.

Key Points

Here is a quick summary of the answer to whether deer meat is still good after 2 years frozen:

  • Quality of venison substantially declines after a year in the freezer.
  • Frozen at 0°F, deer meat can technically last indefinitely.
  • Signs of freezer burn, rancidity, and dryness increase over time.
  • Venison frozen for 2 years may still be safe, but palatability suffers.
  • Cook long-frozen deer meat thoroughly and use extra moisture.
  • Field dress, butcher, and package venison properly for best quality.
  • Thawed venison can be safely refrozen once.
  • Discard meat if spoilage is evident after thawing.

While the eating quality diminishes over time, properly stored venison can usually still be safely eaten after sitting 2 years or longer in the freezer. Use extra care with cooking older deer meat to maximize flavor and texture.

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