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Meat in the Refrigerator: How Long Does It Last?

On behalf of everyone in government who works to keep your food safe, welcome to the FoodSafety.gov blog!

By way of introduction, I’m the manager of the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline. The Hotline is a toll-free telephone service that is available year round, Monday through Friday, to answer your questions about meat, poultry, and egg products. We receive over 80,000 calls a year from people like you who want to know how to prepare and store these foods safely. We also answer questions online at AskKaren.gov.

As you might imagine, there are some questions that we get on a regular basis. In fact, the most frequently asked question that we hear on the Hotline is:

How long can I keep meat in the refrigerator?

What would we do without our refrigerators! When it comes to appliances that keep our foods safe, the refrigerator may be the most important because it slows down the growth of bacteria that cause food poisoning. At temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, bacteria grows most rapidly. That’s why we call this temperature range “the Danger Zone.”

A refrigerator set to 40  °F or below will protect most foods – but not forever. The cool temperatures slow down bacterial growth but they don’t stop the growth completely. So, it’s important to use food in a timely fashion to help maintain freshness and quality. Over time, even chilled foods will spoil.

Raw SteakHere are some basic guidelines for storing meat in the refrigerator.

  • Raw ground meats, all poultry, seafood, and variety meats: Refrigerate 1 to 2 days.
  • Raw roasts, steaks, and chops (beef, veal, lamb, and pork):  Refrigerate 3 to 5 days.
  • Cooked meat, poultry, and seafood: Store in the refrigerator 3 to 4 days.

Because we get so many questions about storing food safely in the refrigerator, we put together this chart, which lists storage times for all sorts of meats and meat products:

Storage Times for the Refrigerator and Freezer

It’s a great resource, and we recommend that you bookmark this page or print it out for future reference.

If you’re looking for more details on refrigeration, from the history of refrigeration to removing odors from refrigerators, check out Refrigeration and Food Safety on  USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service Web site.

We look forward to answering your questions and helping you keep food safe. If you have questions or comments about this topic, add a comment here and let us know. And don’t forget that you can always reach the Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 toll-free or online at AskKaren.gov.

Questions and Answers

Posted April 1, 2010

Q. Are retailers supposed follow the guidelines in this blog? What happens if they don't?

A. The guidelines that we provide on FoodSafety.gov are intended for individuals who buy and prepare food for themselves and their families. When it comes to retail stores, restaurants, and other businesses that deal with food, the government is responsible for setting standards, conducting inspections, and enforcing the law when businesses don't comply with the standards. If you'd like more information, take a look at the Inspections & Compliance section of our site.

Q. How does the use of a home vacuum sealer change the time frames in this blog?

A. Our storage guidelines are the same for home vacuum packaged meats and poultry.

Q. The Danger Zone recommended by ServSafe is different from the one you specified here. Why?

A. The ServSafe recommendations are based on the FDA Food Code, which is intended for retail and food service establishments, such as grocery stores, restaurants, and other institutions that serve food. Those guidelines are for trained cooks in these businesses who are using professional cooking equipment. By contrast, our recommendations on FoodSafety.gov are intended for home cooks.

Q. If poultry can be in the refrigerator one day, how do you thaw out a turkey when the label says to leave it in the refrigerator 2-3 days?

A. Once the turkey is fully thawed, it is like a fresh turkey and it can be refrigerated 1-2 additional days. Take a look at our Turkey Thawing Chart to see how long it takes to thaw a turkey in the refrigerator or in cold water.

Posted in: Kitchen SafetyTagged: Meat | Raw | Refrigerator | Freezer | Poultry