The meat’s been out of the fridge for a few hours now. It happens to me all the time when I get the meat out of the freezer, and I’m not certain that it will thaw in time for when I want to cook it if I let it in the fridge. So I decided to let it out, but then most of the time, I don’t need to cook it right away, so it happens that it will sit there for longer.
Now the question is, is it still safe to cook or not?
There are many ways you can get into a situation when the meat sits outside for a long time. Either you forget about it because you get distracted, or you don’t remember the time you took it out of the freezer.
Or it can happen when you plan to cook it for lunch, and things change, so you now end up with it for dinner.
For those cases, I will answer your question throughout this article and hope everything will be much clear after you read it through the end.
How long can raw meat sit out
Raw meat should not sit out more than two hours if the room temperature is in the danger zone for bacteria to grow. This danger zone is between 40-140 F and 4.4-60 C.
So make sure you don’t keep your raw meat at this temperature for longer than two hours to be on the safe side.
You can apply this rule for most food types, raw or cooked.
This rule also applies to frozen meat. The thaw time should not be longer than two hours on the counter. If you think that it will be, it is safer to thaw your meat in the refrigerator. It is better to wait more for the meat to thaw but still be edible than waiting less but ending up with food poisoning.
In this case the rule “better safe than sorry” really does apply.
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How to safely thaw meat
There are a few ways to thaw your meat.
Outside, such as on the counter. If you have a smaller piece that you estimate will thaw faster than two hours, you can simply leave it outside in a bowl or on a plate. This will most likely not apply if you have a big chunk of meat since the internal part will still be frozen after two hours.
In the fridge. If you are not in a rush or remember to get the meat out for the next day, you can thaw the meat in the refrigerator overnight or over a long time, depending on how big the meat is or what type of meat you have. This is by far the safest way to thaw your meat, so you should opt for this one as much as you can.
In the microwave. You can use the defrost option from your microwave, but make sure that you cook the meat right away. Because you have bigger chances for bacteria to grow once the meat reaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Also be warned that sometimes this method can cook some parts of the meat, if the microwave is not well calibrated. If your microwave does not have this option, it might be best to skip it than improvise.
Coldwater. You can place your meat in an airtight package and place it into a bowl with cold water. Make sure you change the water from time to time. This process sort of imitates what a fridge thaw would do. This should not take more than two hours, but it may take longer for very large pieces, such as a whole turkey.
How long can cooked meat sit out
Cooked meat should not stay outside for more than two hours because it will have bigger chances for bacteria to grow, especially if it is kept in the danger zone between 40-140 degrees F.
So the same rule applies to cooked meat as well. You can be tricked by the fact that cooked meat will not smell as bad as raw meat kept outside for more than two hours, but there are the same chances for bacteria to grow on both.
It doesn’t matter what type of meat you have. It can be poultry, lamb, beef, pork. The same rule applies to all of them, raw or cooked.
I noticed that some people believe smoked meat lasts longer than non-smoked meat if kept outside the fridge. In this case, it is the same thing, maybe you will not notice that it has gone bad, but bacteria will grow at the same speed in smoked meat as non-smoked meat, so don’t risk your own safety trying this.
How to know raw meat has gone bad?
If your meat is sticky, slimy, or has a bad smell, you should throw it away. The biggest sign of the meat going bad is the smell. We all know how bad meat smells. There are no ways you would smell that and say that it is good for cooking. If you have even the slightest doubt, throw it away.
You can also notice a color change. Usually, it gets a pale color but keep in mind that this is not the case for all meat types, and it can not happen. So don’t judge only on this.
To not take any chances, don’t eat meat that has been more than 2 hours outside, 3-5 days in the fridge, and 2-3 months in the freezer. This can vary for every type of meat, but those are some guidelines. Do research for your specific type of meat before cooking it.
Raw meat can last a bit longer outside if you marinate it with an acid-base dressing, for example, something that has vinegar. This can help by killing the bacteria that otherwise will grow freely. But I recommend not taking your chances with this and staying on the safe side with a maximum of two hours even if you marinated your meat.
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Almost any type of raw meat should not stay outside for more than 2 hours if the room temperature is between 40 and 140 degrees F.
I recommend applying this rule every time you are unsure if your food is safe to eat if you forget it outside for more than two hours.
Keep in mind that the two hours rule includes the thawing process, so most of the time will be safer to thaw your meat in the refrigerator rather than letting it outside.