Storing Raw Meat in Refrigerator: How to and for how long can you safely keep it

You see a beautiful piece of meat, perfectly sized and trimmed, and you can already think of a dozen recipes you can use it for. But you know that you’ll have dinner out tonight and that Sunday at the in-laws follows immediately after. Do you buy it? The recommendation is that you eat fresh meat as quickly as possible, ideally on the day you brought it home. But the reality is that most of the times we only get to go shopping maybe once a week and it is then when we need to stock up for another 7 days. Knowing how to store the fresh products and especially meat is, therefore, very important if you plan on eating fresh, tasty and safe food daily.

Pathogens in meat

We usually associate pathogens such as Salmonella or Escherichia coli with poultry. But recent studies have revealed that, due to contamination caused by improper handling, these were also found on beef and lamb as well. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, pathogens such as Staphylococcus, Salmonella, Bacillus, Clostridium and Escherichia coli can double in number every 20 minutes when left at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking usually kills all bacteria, but heat-resistant toxins are left behind, carrying the risk for food poisoning and potentially causing nausea and diarrhea. Also, some of the pathogens bear dangerous spores that can resist both high temperatures and freezing.

Special care should be given to the ready-to-eat products as well, especially those made out of meat, such as the chicken nuggets. Despite the fact that most of the time there are clear indications on the label on how to prepare and eat these foods, many people are still convinced that these are safe to eat without being re-cooked. But E. coli, Salmonella and Shigella have been found on ready to eat meat products, on several instances.

Shopping: Tips for selecting fresh meat

  • Almost always, shopping takes longer than you estimated. Therefore, always buy fresh meat last, so that you reduce to a minimum the amount of time it is exposed to high temperatures.
  • The package has to be tightly wrapped and intact. Avoid those with excessive liquid, the packages that are punctured or feel warm to the hand.
  • Place the meat next to the other refrigerated items in your cart, so that you keep it cool for as long as possible.
  • Watch out for the expiration date. If possible, choose the meats that were packaged that very day.
  • Avoid meats that look either brown or discoloured, have a strong smell or feel soft or slimy.

How to store meat in refrigerator

General recommendations:

  • Meat should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
  • It should be kept apart from any other products to avoid contamination.
  • It should be wrapped tightly, to avoid leakages.

Fresh meat should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, or approximately 4 degrees Celsius. So make sure you set your fridge to the right temperature. But even though cool temperatures slow down bacterial growth, they still start to grow if the meat is stored for too long.  According to Foodsafety.gov:

  • Raw ground meats, all poultry, seafood and variety meats should not be refrigerated for longer than 1-2 days.
  • Raw roasts, steaks, and chops (beef, veal, lamb, and pork) should not be refrigerated longer than 3-5 days.
  • And, finally, cooked meat, poultry and seafood can be stored in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.

In the freezer, at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below, meat can be kept as following:

  • Fresh beef, veal, lamb & pork: steaks – 6 to 12 months, chops – 4 to 6 months, roasts – 4 to 12 months.
  • Fresh poultry (chicken or turkey): whole – 1 year, pieces – 9 months.
  • Cooked meat or poultry: 2 to 6 months.

Good to know:

  • You should always trust your eyes and nose more than the expiration date on the package.
  • If you plan on preparing the fresh meat in a few hours from bringing it home, take it out of the package, put it on a plate, cover it with a paper towel and put it in the fridge.
  • If you know you will store it for a longer time, either leave it in its store package or, ideally, use a vacuum packaging.
  • Never wash poultry in the sink because you risk contamination. Instead, wipe it with paper towels.
  • The best way to defrost meat is to leave it in the fridge overnight. When it defrosts slowly, the meat releases less liquid. Take into consideration, though, that thawed meat will not last as long as fresh meat.
  • Minced meat is more sensitive because bacteria that usually stays on surface and is killed during heating is ground down inside the meat.
  • Oxygen accelerates the decline in the quality of foods, therefore to protect your fresh meat for longer periods you can either cover it in a marinade or a layer of oil or fat.
  • Avoid eating raw meat unless you are sure it is absolutely safe. Poultry and pork should not be eaten raw under any circumstance.

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