Fact Checked

How Long will Meat Stay Fresh in the Refrigerator?

O. Wallace
O. Wallace

Refrigerating meat slows the growth of bacteria, but does not stop it as freezing does. For this reason, refrigerated meat is safe to eat for a significantly shorter amount of time than frozen meat. The temperature range from 40 to 140°F (4.4 to 60°C) is referred to as the “Danger Zone” by food safety experts. It is in this “zone” that bacteria thrive, nearly doubling in a mere 20 minutes. A home refrigerator should be set at 40°F or colder to keep meat safe for the maximum amount of time.

It is important to note that there are two different groups of bacteria that affect refrigerated meat. The first, pathogenic bacteria, make us sick, while the second, spoilage bacteria, make our food go bad and stink up our fridges. By sight, smell and taste, you cannot identify whether a meat is harboring pathogenic bacteria, unlike meat contaminated with spoilage bacteria.

Meat being packaged at a processing plant.
Meat being packaged at a processing plant.

In a refrigerated state, spoilage bacteria can thrive. This is proven by the fact that all food in a refrigerator eventually spoils. Spoiled food won’t make you sick — it might taste bad, but unless it has pathogenic bacteria, your digestive system is in the clear. Unrefrigerated meat, if left out on the counter for a few hours, might smell and look fine, but may be teeming with pathogenic bacteria.

Uncooked bacon can safely stay in the refrigerator for a week.
Uncooked bacon can safely stay in the refrigerator for a week.

During a power outage, food stored in a refrigerator that rises in temperature to over 40°F for more than two hours should be discarded. Also, due to temperature fluctuations, don’t store meat on the door. It is important to maintain your refrigerator’s temperature by keeping the door closed as much as possible. A refrigerator thermostat may also be helpful in monitoring your refrigerator’s temperature.

As always, follow proper cooking instructions when preparing any meat to kill any potentially harmful bacteria. The following is a list of how long certain refrigerated meats will be safe to eat:

  • Cooked leftovers, four days
  • Raw eggs, three to five weeks
  • Hard boiled eggs, one week
  • Salads, such as egg, macaroni, potato or tuna, three to five days
  • Stuffed pork and lamb chops or chicken breasts, one day
  • Ground beef/chicken/turkey/veal, one to two days
  • Stew meats, one to two days
  • Ham, three to seven days
  • Hot dogs, one week if opened, two weeks if unopened
  • Bacon, seven days
  • Steaks/roasts, three to five days
  • Poultry, one to two days
  • Fresh fish/shellfish, one to two days
Sliced frozen meat.
Sliced frozen meat.

The raw meats in the list above are based on the time since they are brought home from the store. The list also presumes proper care from the store to the home (e.g., not leaving raw meats out in a parked car in the sun for extended periods of time). Of course, meats can and have been known to still be safe for longer periods, but this list contains, safe, preferred time guidelines.

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Discussion Comments


I purchased a round shoulder roast last week. Bought it last Monday and put in directly into my new fridge. It is now the following Tuesday. Is it still safe?

The raw roast looks a little dark, because it has lost some pink to it. I am not sure if that is because the blood just drained out into the sponge in the store package or is it really unsafe. It does not have any bad smell to it and it does not have the gray/green tinge associated with bad meat.

I have been taught to soak/drain/repeat (to clean) meat until the water is clear. Then to sear the meat before cooking it for at least 2 hours at 350 degrees with an approximate 185-190 degree meat temperature reading.

Will this all still be considered enough to safely consume?


I bought oxtails on January 1 and have had them in my fridge in the original packaging until tonight, February 6. Is it too late to make soup out of them or to feed them to my dog?


I purchased cooked meat loaf with vegetables five days ago. It has been refrigerated during that number of days. It is wrapped in sealing plastic wrap, very tightly. Since I will not be eating it for several days, I put it in my freezer. Will it be safe if I take it out, thaw it slightly and microwave before eating it?


My uncle buys those jars of Fisher's snack bologna (pickled bologna) and just leaves it sitting on the counter. It drives me crazy. It says Keep Refrigerated right on it. So it sits there on the counter for like six months before he finishes it all. I try to reason with him, but he tells me that's how they used to do it in the old country stores and that it's never made him sick. It still creeps me out, though. That can't possibly be safe.


I purchased chicken two weeks ago at a meat market and forgot about it in the fridge. They stayed sealed in a bag the whole time. Is the chicken any good?


Do you think someone who leaves a full ham in the large can in the fridge open for several upon several weeks would/could get sick/ill, liver damage, over a period of years when continuously stored and eaten in this fashion?

Seeking expert advice.

We were taught to put the ham in plastic or on a plate and cover it up to refrigerate and use within a week's time.


How long after thawing in the refrigerator can I use hamburger and steak?


I took a bag of chicken breast out of the freezer last night and put it in the fridge. Then earlier today I took it out of the fridge and it was still a little frozen. I accidentally left it sitting out om the counter for about five hours. Is it still safe to put it back in the fridge and cook tomorrow?


The reason bacteria of the pathogenic kind will not be killed via cooking by grilling, frying in a pan, or baking is because some bacteria thrive in extremely hot temperatures and reproduce that way. We have bacteria in our guts that survives our 98.6 degree temp. but when we die, it dies because it can't stand colder temps.

Considering most foods are said to be safely cooked at 160-180 degrees F, that's really not that hot for bacteria. Think about it. When you broil something, you broil at 500 degrees or thereabouts. If you were to broil the meat, then I'd say, sure, it's probably much safer but there are still byproducts bacteria leave behind.

I'm sitting here debating eating an organic burger for dinner that's been left raw in the fridge for three days. I'm so poor I can't afford to waste it, so it looks like I'm broiling it.


I have a pre-marinated frozen tri-tip that I took out of the freezer two weeks ago. It is in the vegetable crisper in the fridge, which is colder than the rest of the fridge - which is set to 39 degrees. There are ice crystals still in the bag with the steak, but it is not frozen; just very cold. Can I still eat this?


In answer to post 35, it isn't necessarily the bacteria that makes you sick; it can be the waste product produced by the bacteria, and that can't be killed by cooking.


I also had some pre-cooked frozen meat, for stir fry or other dishes. It is chicken and it was refrigerated but taken out for a few hours and hit room temp. I put it back in the freezer. I'm curious if, since it is already cooked (and processed), it was frozen, then thawed and hit room temp, but stayed in the airtight container and refroze, is it still edible?


I bought meat last night at 3 a.m. My meat remained in the car until 7 a.m. The chicken and steaks were both refrigerated (not frozen) when I bought them. It was approximately 80 degrees outside. I know the meat was in the window temp of 40-140 which is bad, but it was still in the package and cool to the touch when brought home. I put it in the fridge and it's very cold now. I'm curious if it could have formed any bacteria being that it was still cool to the touch and still covered in the packaging since purchase. Did this meat (taking four hours to put in my fridge) go bad, or may I still cook it well and eat it?


When talking about the shelf life of stored meats, it's important to make a distinction between frozen and refrigerated. A raw steak wrapped in plastic or foil can remain in a freezer for close to a year without spoilage, but a spare raw steak kept in a refrigerator may not be edible after a week or so.

In my own experience, thawed hamburger meat kept loosely wrapped in a refrigerator will go bad within a few days. Raw, unfrozen chicken won't last much longer. One tip on determining if fresh chicken is fresh or not: Run your forefinger across the skin of the chicken and then try to snap your fingers. If you can snap your fingers, the chicken is probably okay. If your fingers are too slippery to snap, the chicken has probably picked up a bad form of bacteria and should not be eaten.

Marinating or brining meat in a salt solution may extend its lifespan in the refrigerator, but leaving raw meats in a marinade can cause other problems after one or two days. The ingredients in the marinade or brine can cause the muscle tissue to break down or soften, and the result may be a very mushy steak or pot roast.

@Michalzen: Generally the "sell by" date applies more to the grocer than the customer. It's the last date the manufacturer recommends for retail sale to ensure perfect freshness. If you're only off by a few days, it should still be safe to prepare the meat. A "use by" date that has expired a week ago might be more problematic. Be sure to cook the meat thoroughly, wash your hands after handling it, and use bleach or other disinfectant to sanitize any cutting board or counter top you may have used during preparation.


Why there are no bacteria present in red meat.


How long we can store a properly thawed chicken and red meat in the refrigerator?


How long will it take for meat that was in the frige for four months to go bad?


I bought a prepacked set of steaks. I ate one of them two days ago, and left the other in the packet (now opened) in the fridge. I covered it in celophane but I was wondering if it's still good to eat?


No fresh meat should be left out of the fridge for more than an hour. Meat that has just been cooked can be left out for up to two hours, no longer as bacterial can begin to grow especially in hot whether. Cooked meats such as roasts will last four or five days in the fridge. If you are buying fresh meat from a supermarket or butcher, make sure you have it home in an hour or take a cooler bag with ice blocks in it if you will be longer especially if you are going to leave fresh meat in the boot of your car on a hot day (which you shouldn't anyway). If you can, go to the meat section last in your shopping trip. Hope this helps.


The article discusses pathogenic and spoilage bacteria, but doesn't address the obvious question: why doesn't cooking food kill the bacteria?

I wouldn't survive being boiled or grilled. Why does the bacteria survive?


I bought ground turkey Monday night. It has been in fridge since then. is it OK for me to freeze it or should I just cook it?


I cooked a beef and ale pie (using stew beef) and left it on the counter after cooking for nearly three hours, then refrigerated. Is this safe? Or has it passed a threshold? Thanks in advance!


I left my frozen pound and half ground beef out on counter while I am at work. It is usually cool to touch and okay when I cook. Can I leave this out for 10 hours to thaw and will it still be okay?


LOL for Hamburger meat uncooked in the fridge. Well, I used some one time and put the left over uncooked meat in a ziplock back in the fridge. About three months later I started noticing a horrible smell in my house. It smelled like a dead animal. Well I finally cleaned out my fridge and found the pack of meat in the very back behind two bottles of juice. I wouldn't say long at all before you would need to throw it out. Maybe a week or so.


I have had deer meat soaking in a five gallon bucket of salt water in the refrigerator for eight days. The temp in the fridge has been just above freezing with some ice forming on the top. Is the meat still good?


how long can uncooked hamburger stay in the refrigerator?


Today being friday morning, I have taken out the freezer two packs of sausages and put them into the fridge to defrost. how long can I leave them in the fridge before cooking them? thank you.


yesterday i ate four bites of steak that smelled, tasted, and looked okay. I stopped eating it because my parents said it might make me sick. The steak was frozen for a week, and was already cooked medium well. I thawed about four of them in the fridge and ate three of them with in the next four or five days.

Yesterday I ate the last one after being in the fridge thawing for a week. I have not gotten sick yet although I have been feeling queasy all day (probably because I'm scared of getting sick) so I haven't eaten anything except crackers.

I am not running a fever. I took two Tums, drank some pepto bismol, and have been drinking water. Would I have already had side effects from the meat if it has already been 24 hours after eating it? I'm just in college and away from my family so I'm scared. Thank you for your help!


We are having a cookout tomorrow night. My husband wants to leave raw steaks in a marinade out of the refrigerator all night long. He claims that since they are in a vinegar and spice marinade this is safe. i don't want to poison anyone can you help me quick by answering this? Barb in Michigan


I marinated pork ribs three days before I BBQ. are they still good to go?


We bought chicken thighs on saturday and have kept them in the fridge (not freezer) since. Is it okay to eat them tonight?


how many days or months could beef stay in the refrigerator without being cooked.


Sorry Anon633 but if you left stew out for 12 hours it's bad by now.


The answer to all of these questions is no, it is not safe. Did you all even read the information?

When in doubt, throw it out.


I have some uncooked ground beef. The packing date was June 9th and it is now June 15th, that is eight days in fridge uncooked. Will it still be OK?


I have had a spiral ham in the refrigerator for three weeks. Is it still good?


I bought a leg of lamb roast on Tuesday. Can it be refrigerated (not frozen) and safe to cook and eat on Sunday?


Our power was out for 4 days. I threw away all the meats, dairy, etc. The one thing I kept was the pickles, olives, hot sauces, A1, soy sauce, pickled okra. Are these items safe to eat?


i left the stew i cooked last night out of the fridge by mistake, so it's sat out for 12 hours. is it safe to boil and eat?


What is not discussed is if the product is in a sealed freezer bag, or not, in the fridge (not the freezer). I found it essentially adds two days to freshness, but concerning health issues, I have no idea.


What is the answer to no. 5? Anyone know?


I purchased a fresh tuna steak on Sunday. Is it still safe to eat tonight (Wednesday)?


Beef primals such as your top round are good for 60 days after pack date


Hi I bought ground turkey last week. It wasn't frozen in the store, and it was in my refrigerator since. Today when I wanted to use it I saw that the "sell by date" is 16 Feb (two days ago). Is it safe to cook it?


Does marinating the meat change the times listed above?


Can anyone help me out? I purchased a large (26 lb) top round (denoted) roast from a wholesale store. It doesn't have an expiration date just a packing date of January 2, 2009. The meat is vacuum sealed and has only been refrigerated. I purchased this on Friday January 30th. How long will this last in the refrigerator before I have to cook or freeze it? Thanks for any comments.


Wow! With a mother from the old country who thinks things last longer than it seems they should, I really appreciate this article and list. Thank you!

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