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I just bought a new chest freezer to store some lamb and beef. I placed the fresh lamb meat in a couple of metal containers (not covered) and put these in the freezer. I did the same with the beef but in different containers (not covered) and put them into the same freezer. However, after already dropping a couple of the beef containers in the freezer, I noticed a pungent smell of spoiled beef coming out of the one last container.

I immediately opened the freezer and removed the other beef containers out of it. They must have been in there for like 5-10 minutes tops. The thing is that the freezer is ridden with the rancid smell of spoiled meat and it just doesn't seem to go away. The lamb is fresh and unspoiled. But that's what I'm worried about: if that spoiled batch of beef had an effect on the lamb and spoiled it as well.

Can that happen? Can you spoil fresh meat in a freezer by putting spoiled meat next to it in the same freezer (in uncovered separate vessels/containers, of course)? Or is it just the smell of that spoiled batch of meat and nothing to worry about?

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The chemicals associated with the odor of rancid or spoiled meat can indeed float around in a freezer and condense on other surfaces, such as the other meats.* Since these chemicals are detectable at extremely low concentrations, even a small amount of migration would make those objects noticeably rotten-smelling.

That probably didn't happen to the meat, though. Vapor doesn't want to condense just anywhere; it wants to condense on cold surfaces. And the coldest thing in your freezer, at least for a few hours after you initially filled it, is the freezer itself. I think it most likely that the surfaces of the freezer -- and the air in it, for that matter -- are the only things with a significant residual odor.

If you like, scrub down the sides of the freezer with a dilute ammonia solution (aka window cleaner). But I don't think you need to do anything about the rest of the meat.

*  On one occasion, a roadkilled skunk was stored for some time in a refrigerator. The mercaptans from the scent glands turned the butter (it was not a roadkilled-skunk-specific refrigerator) into, well, skunk butter. "You can't pick your family", as they say.

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  • Would "just waiting it out" be an option for getting rid of the smell instead of the more arduous scrubbing with dilute ammonia one? Thanks for the helpful answer with the interesting but curious account at the end. I mean, why would anyone have a roadkilled skunk in their refrigerator? Jul 22 at 22:44
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    Waiting it out is possibly but not necessarily a workable option: your freezer is a closed system, and putrescine is quite stable. It has to go somewhere. An open container of baking soda might help (I don’t really know the science there). As for why, if you knew the person you would not ask the question.
    – Sneftel
    Jul 22 at 23:00
  • That's quite helpful. Thanks. Jul 22 at 23:17

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