Meat thawing can be a big part of meal planning. Thawing meat makes it take less time to cook, and can in some cases improve the quality of the meat you are eating. Thawing often simply involves simply moving the meat to a place that isn’t as chilly as your freezer.
We often hear questions wondering how long meat can be thawed in the fridge. Home chefs will have a puzzled look, wondering if the meat is safe to eat. The good news is that with some timing and knowledge, it’s easy to know how long meat can sit in the fridge while thawing.
The answer does vary. The general answer is to use meat as soon as you can once it’s thawed. Many cuts of meat can be kept safely in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Any differences in cuts of meat?
You’ll want to treat different types and cuts of meat a little differently when it comes to use after thawing.
Ground beef thaws more quickly than other meats. You’ll also notice in most cases that the meat section of your local grocery store has the ground beef at a chillier temperature than other meats.
When beef is ground up for the purpose of recipes and hamburgers, it’s exposed to organisms and bacteria that cause spoilage quickly. The torn up meat has more space to fit bacteria and allow for it to grow.
Ground beef is also prone to both spoilage bacteria that makes it smell a bit worse than fresh, and pathogenic, which makes you sick.
While the general timeline for ground beef is up to 3 days in the fridge, you can also tell it’s going bad by looking at the color. If the previously red exterior of the beef has turned gray or brown, it’s probably bad. If only the inside is brown, gray, or bluish, it should still be good as just the outside was exposed to excessive oxygen.
Chicken is the second most popular meat in most American kitchens. If it’s not been ground up, chicken should last about 3 days after being fully thawed in the fridge.
To test when those 3 days start, check the temperature by touch and temperature. If the chicken feels firm but loves a little with the touch of your hand, it’s likely getting close to thawed. If the chicken feels like it’s the same temperature as the fridge, it’s getting there.
Chicken can carry and more quickly develop salmonella and staph bacteria if left in the fridge too long. These illnesses are not fun and result in food poisoning, like stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. On a side note, don’t thaw chicken at room temperature.
Pork has about 3-5 days to sit in your fridge, thawed. Much like chicken and beef, pork is prone to developing bacteria once it is no longer thoroughly frozen.
Note that if you have ground pork, your timeline is shorter at 1 to 3 days. Just like ground chicken or ground beef, the grinding process invites more bacteria and pathogens to grow within the pork, some of which cannot be cooked out.
Bad pork puts you at risk for trichinosis, which is a particularly unfriendly stomach bug from eating pork that has been sitting out too long or has been undercooked.
Veal is similar to pork, in that you should expect that veal will last 3 to 5 days thawed in the fridge.
Steak can be a little different. Steak can take a little while longer to thaw depending on the thickness of the cut. Like beef, expect steak to last 3 to 5 days in the fridge before having a higher risk of making you sick or of having lower quality.
Why is time important for the fridge?
Time in the fridge is time spent no longer frozen. Frozen meats don’t grow the bad bacteria that leads to food poisoning. Freezing also generally helps preserve meat and it’s fresh state.
Setting up your fridge for thawing
Besides considering time, there are other factors that go into how long your meat lasts in the fridge.
The most important one is temperature. Refrigerators generally have their settings dial somewhere between 33 and 40 degrees. 40 degrees is the absolute highest you should go when using a fridge, especially when thawing meat.
Package it right
Ensure that the meat is in good packaging so that the air within the fridge itself doesn’t cause more rapid spoiling. Meat laid bare in the fridge will dry out quickly.
You should either put meat in the fridge in it’s original packaging or something airtight. Oxygen is exactly what causes spoilage and leaving meat on a plate with no cover isn’t much different than laying it on the counter.
When in doubt, throw it out
Meat that has changed color or smell is usually a bad start. Ask yourself if it’s worth it to make a meal with a cut of meat that has taken on an unusual odor or look – especially if the meal is for more than just you.
While you might think that throwing out meat is wasteful of money and resources, it’s a better alternative than getting sick. This is especially true for kids and older adults who could get dehydrated by food poisoning.
Food safety is important to prevent potentially serious illness. Food safety also helps bring all the flavor and texture out of the meat you are cooking.
Take a close look at the meat you are cooking, even if it’s well within the typical number of days allotted. Sniff for any different smell and keep an eye out for color changes.
You can also touch meats to see if they are fully thawed, which starts the timer.
Finally, use an oxygen safe container for your meat so that the meat stays fresh and preserved.