How Long Can Meat Sit Out?

Meat is a part of people’s daily diet worldwide. However, meat is a great environment for bacteria and other microorganisms to grow, especially when not refrigerated. Foodborne illnesses are common when consuming raw meat that sits out for a long period of time. But, how long can meat sit out?

How Long Can Raw Meat Sit Out?

In temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, raw meat should not sit out longer than 2 hours, regardless of the type of meat you want to consume. After this 2 hours period, the bacteria naturally found in the raw meat start multiplying, which makes this meat unsafe for consumption as it can lead to foodborne illnesses. Make sure not to refrigerate or cook a meat which stayed out longer than 2 hours. You should just throw it away.

Can the Meat Be Safe for Consumption Once It Is Cooked?

No, the meat should not be consumed after the 2 hours limit. Even if the meat gets cooked, some bacteria can lead to a production of toxins which can’t be destroyed while cooking. Cooking the meat will only help kill the bacteria, but it will not have an effect against these toxins already produced by these bacteria.

How Long Can Cooked Meat Sit Out?

How long can meat sit out when cooked? In room temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, cooked meat can sit out no longer than 4 hours. At temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the cooked meat can sit out longer as the temperature is not suitable enough for bacteria to multiply fast. When refrigerated, a cooked meat can be consumed even after 3 to 4 days. The refrigerating temperatures should be between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

How About Reheating Meat? Is It Safe to Consume It?

No, any reheated meat which has been sitting out longer than 4 hours is not safe for consumption. By reheating this already cooked meat, you will destroy some bacteria for sure, but as mentioned, the toxins already produced by these bacteria commonly found in meat can’t be destroyed. However, it is definitely safer to consume a reheated meat than when consuming it cold. If it has been more than 7 hours from the time the meat was cooked, you should better throw that meat away and not consume it.

How to Store and Prepare Meat Safely

How long can meat sit out? You already know the answer. But it is equally important to learn how to store and prepare meat.

How to Store Meat

Raw meat can remain safe for consumption for around 3 days when refrigerated correctly. In other cases, you should better freeze it. Once the meat is frozen, it can remain safe for consumption for a couple of months. The freezer should be kept close to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, while the refrigerator should be kept close to 34 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperatures will make sure that the meat remains healthy and fresh.

From the following table, you can check some guidelines regarding meat storage:

Meat Type

Meat Storage in a Refrigerator

Meat Storage in a Freezer

Uncooked fish

1 – 2 days

6 months

Uncooked ground meat

1 – 2 days

3 – 4 months

Uncooked steaks or chops

3 – 4 days

4 – 12 months

Uncooked poultry

1 – 2 days

9 – 12 months

Cooked fish, meat, or poultry

3 – 4 days

2 – 6 months

Hot dogs or lunch meat

1 week when the package is opened or 2 weeks when the package is not opened

1 – 2 months

How to Thaw Meat

When wanting to cook the meat which was already frozen in a freezer, you should take it out one night before cooking. This way, the meat will have enough time to thaw in the refrigerator. You can always thaw the meat in a microwave or in an airtight and watertight package placed inside a bowl with cold water. The water should be changed every half an hour. Be sure to cook the meat immediately after thawing.

How to Cook Meat

How long can meat sit out? How to cook meat properly? When cooked correctly, the meat can be safely consumed. The cooking temperature affects the taste and the food safety as well. You can check the temperature of the meat by using a meat thermometer. The meat can be cooked as rare, medium, or well-done.

  • Rare meat is a meat cooked at temperatures between 120 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Medium meat is a meat cooked at temperatures between 140 and 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Well-done meat is a meat cooked in temperatures 165 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Safe cooking temperatures also vary for various types of meat, such as:

  • Poultry should be cooked in temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You should never eat poultry as rare cooked. If poultry is undercooked, salmonella and other foodborne illnesses can develop.
  • Ground meat should be cooked in temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Ground meat is more likely to contain bacteria mixed throughout, meaning that it should be cooked at higher temperatures than whole meat. Whole meat usually contains bacteria on its surface.
  • Whole meat should be cooked in temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Before eating, you should allow the meat to rest for at least 3 minutes. By giving the necessary time for the meat to rest, the heat will have more time to kill any bacteria present. Pork should be cooked well as it can carry potentially dangerous parasites or worms, causing serious foodborne illnesses.
  • Fish should be cooked in temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The flesh should separate easily as well.
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