Unless you are vegan or vegetarian, or you are on some kind of special diet where you can’t eat meat, it is most likely that you consume it almost every day. Although some types of meat can be very expensive these days, meat remains one of the most consumed foods on the planet.
Whether you buy some kind of ground meat like ground chicken or ground beef or whole meat like raw beef or poultry, you certainly have to know how to handle it properly in order to keep it safe.
From there, many types of questions arise such as “How to store meat properly?”, “How to tell if the meat has gone bad?”, etc. And one of the most critical questions that I am going to talk about in this article is “How long can meat sit out?”.
I am just going to say that meat, generally speaking, can stay out for up to 2 hours. I warmly recommend you continue reading to find out more important information about this vital topic.
How Long Can Meat Sit Out?
How long can meat sit out? The general rule of thumb is that meat can sit out for up to 2 hours, i.e. it can stay at room temperature for no more than those 2 hours. Among chefs, home cooks, and culinary experts, this rule is known as the 2-hour rule.
The 2-hour rule is a standard rule for perishable food such as meat and poultry stated by FDA (Food And Drug Administration) and Foodsafety.gov. However, you can not rely on this rule every time. That means that in some situations it doesn’t apply.
So, the meat can not stay in the so-called danger zone for more than 2 hours. According to the FDA, the danger zone ranges between 40 and 140 degrees F. If the temperature is between 40 and 90 degrees F, meat can sit out for up to 2 hours.
But, if the temperature is above 90 degrees F, it is not recommended to leave your meat outside for more than 1 hour because it will spoil for sure.
Some experts claim that meat can stay at a temperature between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 2 hours, i.e. for up to 4 hours. But, I would warmly recommend you not to leave your meat outside for that amount of time, and that way you will keep it safe for sure.
How Long Can Raw Meat Sit Out?
Raw meat is also subject to the 2-hour rule. This means that raw meat can stay at room temperature for up to 2 hours in order to be sure that it is 100% safe.
Some culinary experts say that raw meat can stay at room temperature for up to 4 hours and will be safe from bacteria growth.
In my opinion, the safest way to avoid harmful bacteria growth and other consequences like various foodborne illnesses is not to keep your piece of raw meat at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
Whether it is deli meat, hamburger meat, smoked meat, packaged meat, or charcuterie, don’t keep it for more than 2 hours at room temperature.
However, I will also emphasize that there are certain ways to prolong the shelf life of meat at room temperature.
Cured meat can sit out for a much longer amount of time because some curing processes are designed to extend the shelf life of meat.
Also, if you want your meat to sit out a little bit longer, you can also marinate it in some kind of acidic sauce like apple cider vinegar, for example. That way, you will slow down bacterial growth.
How Long Can You Leave Cooked, Refrigerated, Or Frozen Meat At Room Temperature?
When it comes to cooked, refrigerated, or frozen meat, it is a similar story really. You shouldn’t keep any piece of meat in one of these states for more than those 2 hours because of the risk of harmful bacteria growth.
• Cooked meat: There is no real difference between raw meat and cooked meat when talking about leaving it at room temperature. Cooked meat shouldn’t sit out for more than 2 hours in order to avoid harmful bacteria growth.
• Refrigerated meat: Because refrigerated meat will take a little longer to reach room temperature, it can stay outside for longer. But, in my opinion, it is best not to keep it for more than 2 hours at room temperature either. This way, you will be 100% sure that it hasn’t gone bad.
• Frozen meat: When talking about leaving your frozen meat at room temperature, you are actually talking about defrosting that same meat. Whether defrosting chicken, poultry, or some other type of meat, it is best to defrost it in the fridge overnight.
But, if you for some reason don’t have that much time, you can leave your piece of meat at room temperature. Just make sure that you don’t leave it for more than 2 hours on the countertop.
Are There Any Benefits Of Leaving Meat At Room Temperature?
There certainly are some benefits of leaving meat at room temperature. You just have to know how to do that properly. The best way is to leave your piece of meat on a plate, whether it is raw steak or some other piece of meat, and cover it with a kitchen towel.
You have to let it reach room temperature, i.e. about 68 degrees F. The best way to know the internal temperature of the meat is to use a food thermometer if you have one. The average amount of time is 30 minutes.
When you leave your piece of meat for those 30 minutes to warm to room temperature before cooking, it will sear and brown much better. Also, it will have a much better texture and flavor. And, finally, it will cook a lot more evenly.
All in all, leaving your meat at room temperature can be a great thing if you know how much time you can leave it outside and how to do that properly.
What Are The Signs That Meat Has Gone Bad?
There are a few signs that your meat is rancid and unsafe to consume according to USDA and you should definitely know about them because it can save your life.
• Bad smell: Although raw meat generally doesn’t have a nice smell, you can certainly distinguish a bad piece of meat from a fresh one. If it possesses a sour smell, something similar to spoiled milk, you should throw it away.
• Discoloration: If you notice some strange colors on your piece of meat, that can be a sign of spoilage. If your piece of meat gets a green or murky brown shade, that is a clear sign that it has gone bad.
• Different texture: If you run your fingers over a piece of meat and you feel that it is sticky or slippery, that is also a sign of spoilage. Spoiled meat will most likely develop that characteristic sticky layer before it starts to mildew.
• Mold: And finally, there is mold of course. Although it is not that common, mold is a clear sign of spoilage of your piece of meat.
What are the health risks of eating meat left out for too long?
Finally, here are the health risks of eating meat that has been left out for too long. I sincerely hope that you won’t have to bother with this part, but it is still necessary to know some facts just in case.
So, letting your meat stay at room temperature for too long will cause harmful bacteria growth. Some types of harmful bacteria include Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella Enteritidis, and Campylobacter. High levels of these bacteria can cause foodborne illnesses.
It is most likely that you will suffer from food poisoning. In that case, you have to know what the symptoms are. The symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, fever, headache, and stomach cramps.
If you notice any of these symptoms, go to your doctor immediately. Once again, leaving your raw, frozen, refrigerated, or cooked meat, or any other cooked food or hot food, at room temperature for longer can lead to harmful bacteria growth and consequently to food poisoning.
Always be aware of that!
What Happens If You Eat Meat Left Out Overnight?
Leaving meat at room temperature overnight is not a good idea because leaving any kind of food, including meat, outside for more than 2 hours can cause harmful bacteria to grow rapidly.
Eating meat that contains harmful bacteria can lead to food poisoning. Food poisoning is a really big threat to your health and it can even be life-threatening if you don’t react in time.
Keep Your Steak Safe
As you can see, you can’t just buy your favorite piece of meat for cooking or grilling in the grocery store, and just put it wherever you want. It is essential to know that meat does not like to be at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
That is because room temperature ranges between 68 and 74 degrees F and that is inside the temperature danger zone that ranges from 40 to 140 degrees F. It is not recommended to let any type of food stay at that temperature.
Also, if the temperature is higher than that, i.e. if it is above 90 degrees F, it is not recommended to leave your meat outside for more than 1 hour. Also, take into consideration that bad smell, discoloration, slimy texture, and mold are the biggest signs of meat spoilage that can lead to foodborne illnesses such as food poisoning.