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Left Meat Out to Thaw and Forgot It – Is It Safe to Eat?

You took a nice bit of meat out of the freezer to thaw but forgot it.

Then, life got in the way. A few days later, you open the refrigerator and see the meat that you meant to eat days ago.

Is the meat still good? It might be, but you need to check the sight, smell, and feel of the meat to determine whether or not it has gone off.

Left Meat Out to Thaw and Forgot It

If you leave frozen meat outside of the refrigerator to thaw for more than two hours, toss it. If you left it in the refrigerator and it is less than five days, it may still be good if it was kept at temperatures of at least 40 degrees F or colder. Check the meat’s appearance, smell and touch to see if it has gone off.

Meat Left Out in Room Temperature

A generation ago, it was common practice to take a piece of meat from the freezer in the morning before going to work, place it on a plate and let it sit on the counter or on a high shelf if pets could jump up on the counter or were large enough to steal food from the counter.

When you got home from work, the meat was completely defrosted. 

This could only be done during the colder months and home heating is turned down or off completely.

It could never be done over the summer.

However, this old practice is dangerous.

Although very large chunks of meat like a whole roast or whole chicken would not get you sick, anything smaller might.

People also tend to keep their homes warmer than in generations past, spoiling meat faster.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), frozen meat can go off in as little as two hours.

Meat needs to be kept at 40 degrees F or colder to keep it good for longer.

Chances are, you did not keep your home that cold while your meat was sitting out defrosting.

If it’s been days or even hours since you remembered the defrosting meat, it’s too late.

Throw it out.

Meat Left in the Refrigerator

If you left your frozen meat in the refrigerator to thaw and forgot about it, it may have a fighting chance of remaining good, depending on how large the cut is and what kind of meat it happens to be.

Meat left at the back of the shelf is at a colder spot in the refrigerator than meat kept at the front of the shelf.

Freezing kept any bacteria in the meat at a dormant stage.

Once the meat has thawed, the bacteria come to life and begin to break the meat down.

Just how fast depends on the type and size of the meat.

Unfortunately, thawed meat breaks down and goes bad faster than fresh meat.

The USDA has a basic list of defrosted meats and how long they can last in the refrigerator.

  • Ground meat: one or two days.
  • Fish (unless it’s a huge piece, like a whole shark): one or two days.
  • Poultry parts: one or two days.
  • Other pieces of beef: three to five days.
  • Veal: three to five days.
  • Whole poultry: three to five days.
  • Pork: Three to five days.

If the meat passes inspection and you want to refreeze it, you can.

However, this will make the meat not taste as good, although it won’t get you sick.

How to Tell If Meat Has Gone Off

You need to unwrap the defrosted meat to look, smell and touch it to determine if it is still good. 

The smell of rancid meat will be the most noticeable. It will smell like garbage, or make you involuntarily frown.

Good meat has very little smell.

If you have clogged sinuses or suffer from something else that interferes with your sense of smell, blot the meat with a paper towel and sniff the towel, or have someone you trust sniff the meat.

Spoiled meat often feels different than good meat. It should not have a mucus-like film all over it. It also should not feel sticky.

This is especially important for chops, steaks, or roasts.

Unless it is ground meat, the meat should not have noticeable soft or mushy spots.

It can be difficult to tell whether the thawed meat is off just from the appearance, which is why you also need to look and smell the meat.

Freezing can change the color of red meat and poultry, often causing it to darken.

Dry white spots usually mean freezer burn and not mold or bacterial growth.

The meat is safe to eat, but will not taste as good.

Safely Defrosting Meat

The University of Illinois recommends three ways to safely defrost meat.

You can place meat in the refrigerator, in a bowl of cold water or microwave it.

When defrosting meat in the refrigerator, place it in a sealed plastic bag or on a plate because it may drip blood.

The blood could contaminate your other food. After you remove the meat, clean the area.

How quickly the meat will defrost depends on its size.

A package of ground meat will defrost overnight, while a whole turkey needs at least two days.

Defrost meat in cold water (not hot) by submerging it in a bowl, bag, or another container, changing the water about every half hour when the water warms up.

When it defrosts, cook immediately, because it will not stay as fresh as when thawed in the refrigerator.

Before defrosting meat in the microwave, be sure to remove the meat from all packaging, or the packaging will cook into the meat, ruining it.

Microwave defrosting may already change the flavor of the meat more than by other methods.

Frequently Asked Questions About Left Meat Out to Thaw and Forgot It – Safe to Eat?

How Long Can Frozen Meat Sit Out to Thaw Before It Goes Bad?

According to the USDA, it only takes two hours for frozen meat of any kind to go off if left at room temperature. This is why it’s best to always defrost meat in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave, rather than placing the frozen meat on a counter.

How Long Can Meat and Poultry Remain in the Refrigerator Once Thawed?

Larger cuts of meat do not go off as fast as ground meat. Ground meat and small cuts of poultry can go off in two days, while large cuts of beef, pork, lamb, veal, and whole poultry can last up to five days. Fish can go off in as little as a day but can last up to two days.

How Long Does Frozen Meat Last After Being Thawed in the Microwave?

Meat thawed in the microwave should be cooked right away. Keep in mind that it is normal for meat thawed in a microwave to not taste as good as meat thawed in other ways. The meat can still taste different and still be good.


Left Meat Out to Thaw and Forgot It – The Least You Need to Know

If you left the meat on the counter and it’s been over two hours, toss it.

If it has stayed in the refrigerator and it’s less than five days, it may still be good.

Ground meat, seafood, and small meat parts go off in one or two days, while larger cuts stay good up to five days.