Storing Meat in Your Refrigerator

Once I get the meat in the refrigerator it’s fine and won’t spoil, right?

Meat comes from animals that can carry bacteria which might make us sick. Because of this storing meat safely to prevent the growth of any bacteria that may be present is important.

Bacteria can multiply rapidly and cause food to spoil or make it unsafe. Bacteria produce the slime, toxins, off colors and odors associated with food spoilage. However, disease-causing bacteria can grow without changing the odor, color or texture of the food. For this reason, keeping meat cold enough to prevent bacterial growth (or heating it to a temperature which kills them) is critical. Food spoilage bacteria grow best at environmental temperatures of 70° to 100°F. They will grow more slowly at temperatures above and below this temperature range. Your refrigerator should be between 34° and 40°F, because most bacteria grow extremely slowly, if at all, in this range.

Check the temperature of your refrigerator with a thermometer even if your refrigerator is new. To measure the temperature in the refrigerator:

  1. Put a glass kitchen thermometer (candy thermometer) in a glass of water and place it in the middle of the refrigerator.
  2. Wait 5 to 8 hours.
  3. If the temperature is not 38° to 40°F, adjust the refrigerator temperature control.
  4. Check the temperature again after 5 to 8 hours.

Tips for Refrigerator Safety:

  • Do not open the refrigerator frequently, especially on warm humid days because this raises the temperature of the refrigerator.
  • Clean the refrigerator regularly to cut down on food odors. Remove spoiled foods immediately to prevent decay from spreading to other foods.
  • Store raw meat, poultry and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so juices don’t drip onto other foods and cause cross-contamination.
  • When thawing meat in the refrigerator meat should be placed on a plate or in a container to prevent juices from contaminating other foods.
  • Use food stored in the refrigerator quickly. Don’t depend on maximum storage time.
  • Keep uncooked, ground meat and poultry in the refrigerator only one or two days before cooking or freezing (see Tables Refrigerator Storage of Meats, Refrigerator Storage of Poultry, and Refrigerator Storage of Fish).
  • Practice: “First In, First Out”