How Long Is Meat Good For?

This is the first article in a series on how long foods stay good. For the other parts, see How Long Is Produce Good For? and How Long Is Milk (and Other Dairy) Good for?

For many of us, consuming meat is a daily occurrence. Ham sandwiches, bacon cheeseburgers, grilled pork chops, hamburger casseroles, and hot dogs galore. Obviously, not all meat is created equal in content, taste, or how long it lasts. How long are those hotdogs supposed to last in the fridge, and can they still be eaten if they sit there for longer?

So how long does prepackaged meat last? It depends on the food. Fresh meats will almost always go bad faster than processed meats. Processed foods are often fully cooked to kill off most of the bacteria, and they often contain antioxidants and preservatives to prevent spoilage. Fresh foods typically do not have these protections.

Below are some common meat items and how long they can be consumed or stored. Conditions in each home can vary, so trust your senses to guide you.

Bacon

Wonderful bacon. All fatty, salty, smoky, and meaty goodness. But what if it’s not good anymore? What if it’s slimy or pale or no longer delivers the same olfactory tingles or awareness? Then it’s time to say goodbye to that package and move on to another.

Typically, bacon should still be good for 1 to 2 weeks after the date on the package if the package remains unopened. Once the package is opened, don’t count on more than a week past that printed date. If you cook the bacon and put it into the fridge right away, it will last between 7 and 10 days.

Tightly sealed containers are best for storing in the refrigerator so contaminants, air, and moisture don’t destroy the meat. Bacon can also be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.

If you’re wondering whether your bacon is still good, make sure it looks, smells, and feels like how you expect bacon to. If it is off anywhere, toss the product and buy some more. Bacon is a great food, but it is not worth ruining future meals with one bad bacon debacle.

Hot Dogs

Hot dogs are fully cooked at the manufacturing facility, but still cooking before consuming at home is recommended. Listeria likes meat products and is especially dangerous to pregnant women.

When you bring hot dogs home from the store, they can be stored either in the fridge or the freezer. Most people do not think of freezing hotdogs, but it comes in handy to have a pack on hand that can be pulled out of the freezer quickly. For maximum quality, it is not recommended to freeze hotdogs beyond a couple of months.

In the fridge, hotdogs can last a couple of weeks past the date on the package if unopened, but only 1 week past the date on the package once opened. I know from personal experience that the hotdogs may be edible, even tasty, past this, but it is not recommended, especially for the young, old, pregnant, and immuno-compromised.

Ground Beef

Ground beef can be used in hamburgers, casseroles, and many other things – but it doesn’t keep long after purchasing it. It is recommended to use fresh ground beef within 1 or 2 days of purchase.

Freezing your ground beef? It can be good for 4 months at top quality when frozen. It is recommended to use a bag or paper meant for freezing to get the best quality upon thawing. Keep in mind that freezing it longer is not a food safety issue. The beef will still be good to use, it just might not taste as good.

Thawing frozen ground beef is best done in the refrigerator, but can also be done in a cold water bath or using the microwave. If you use either the cold water bath or the microwave, cook the meat right away and make sure it is cooked thoroughly before freezing again.

No matter how you prepare your ground beef and what you are using it for, cook to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. And yes, it can be cooked in the microwave. Just make sure the product is covered, flipped and rotated during the cooking so the beef gets cooked evenly all the way through. Once the ground beef is cooked, it can last in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. It can also be refrozen for an additional 4 months. When reheating, cook to 165 degrees F to kill off any persistent bacteria that may linger.

Look, Feel and Sniff First

If your meat no longer looks, smells, or feels like what it should, toss it and purchase another package. Better to continue enjoying your meat products than have them tainted by a bad experience.

Remember: When in doubt, throw it out!