How Long Can Raw Meat Sit Out? (5 Important Signs & Dangers)

Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: December 1, 2023

Ensuring food safety is crucial when handling raw meat. A common concern I get from many people pertains to the length of time raw meat can sit out.

Attending to this concern is important as leaving raw meat out longer risks foodborne illnesses.

As a devout carnivore, I talked to an expert butcher and a dietician and put the puzzle pieces together. Furthermore, I researched how factors like room temperature and humidity affect the speed at which bacteria multiply.

In this article, I will explore how long it's safe to leave raw meat at room temperature and how to identify meat that has gone bad.

Quick Summary

  • Raw meat can sit out for only up to two hours at room temperature.
  • Leaving meat out longer can lead to bacterial growth, posing food safety risks.
  • You can tell meat has gone bad if it has an awful smell, slimy texture, and strange color.

How Long Can You Leave Raw Meat Out?

A top view of a large piece of meat

You can leave raw meat out for a maximum of two hours [1].

If you're marinating for longer, I recommend you keep it in an acidic sauce like vinegar because it slows down bacterial development [ 2].

Research indicates that when raw beef meat is stored at room temperature for more than two hours, pathogenic bacteria can grow rapidly and cause food poisoning [3].

Frozen meat is likewise subject to this rule. Don’t defrost it for more than two hours. Moreover, it’s wise to defrost your meat, including other perishable food in the refrigerator.

Additionally, your cooked meat shouldn't sit for any longer than two hours. Past this time, germs start to proliferate and occupy the cooked meat.

Also Read: How Long Can Ham Sit Out?

5 Signs That Meat Has Gone Bad

Here are four pointers to help you know if meat is stale.

1. Awful Smell

A woman wearing an apron holding her nose

One of the quickest ways to check for spoiled meat is to smell it.

Although raw ground meats don’t necessarily smell good, your nose can typically distinguish clearly between a delicate, fresh steak and one that has gone bad.

Ruined smoked meat will have a pungent smell that is no longer that of raw meat but rather one dominated by ammonia.

When you smell it, you'll be able to tell for sure that it's not anything you should consume.

2. Slimy Texture

A sticky surface coating that you may see or feel on a piece of steak is a telltale indicator of rotten meat or spoilage.

The steak will have a glossier-than-usual appearance, with a clear or yellowish hue.

If you run your fingers over it, it will also feel slippery or sticky. Bad steak frequently develops this sticky layer a few days before it starts to mildew.

“Assuming your meat is unfrozen, up to two hours at room temperature and one hour over 90 degrees. However, the warmer the room, the less you should leave steak out.”
- Jan Soloven, Trained Chef

Naturally, mold is a sign that your once-fresh steak has become contaminated with dangerous bacteria and is no longer fit for consumption.

3. Strange Color

Rotten meats will also appear to have a slight color change. The hue of poultry should range from bluish-white to yellow.

Pork is pink-gray when it is raw. The color of raw ground beef can vary from brilliant red to purplish-red and even brownish-red.

But if your meat becomes green or a shade of greenish-brown, it's time to throw it out.

4. Overall Appearance

A dark colored meat on top of a cutting board

I once took out my raw ground beef to thaw, and all the juices ran out into the bag.

Even though a dry, juiceless cut couldn’t guarantee that my beef was rancid, it undoubtedly affected the flavor and overall quality of the finished dish.

When you cook tough, dry-aged beef, you'll most likely wind up with a steak that resembles a hockey puck, except if your steak has a lot of marbling to provide its tenderizing fat and moisture content.

To prevent this, I always store meat in a vacuum-sealed container before putting it in the freezer.

Doing this will prevent them from exposure to germs that might hasten their early deterioration, mold growth, and unpleasant tastes and odors.

I recently discovered that vacuum-sealing also locks in the fluids necessary to maintain the meat’s natural wetness and juiciness.

5. How Long It's Been in the Freezer

When transferring raw meat from the freezer to the refrigerator, mark each package with the date to be consumed.

The steak in the refrigerator has to be consumed within two to three days after it has been thawed.

If you forgot how long you placed it in the refrigerator to defrost, toss it out.

Dangers of Leaving Steak Out

A close up image of a raw steak

Here are two potential dangers of leaving steak at room temperature for too long.

1. Bacteria Growth

Bacteria like salmonella multiply most quickly in meat in the 40 to 140 °F temperature range. The bacteria in raw meat begins to double in just 20 minutes in this "danger zone" at room temperature [4].

I recommend not to keep ground meat or other meats out of the refrigerator for more than two hours if you intend to cook and eat it.

2. Food Poisoning Risks

Meat left out at room temperature for extended periods has harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses like poisoning.

Food poisoning is a hazardous condition that can cause symptoms including [5]:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Blood in the stool

Also, if you leave cooked meat or any other hot food out at room temperature for more than a few hours, use a food thermometer to check the temperature.

And if it's in the “danger zone”, it's best to discard it.

FAQs

Can I Let Raw Beef Sit at Room Temperature Overnight?

No, you cannot let raw beef sit at room temperature overnight. This is because raw meats left out for more than two hours are considered unsafe for consumption.

How Long Can Meat Sit in A Car?

Meat can sit in a car for a maximum of two hours, even at room temperature.  Leaving raw beef unrefrigerated in a warm car is not the best idea.

Should I Eat Meat Left Out Overnight?

No, you shouldn't eat the meat left out overnight. If meat bacteria grow rapidly in just 20 minutes, imagine how much more it can multiply if left sitting out for more than 8 hours.

How Long Can Raw Meat Stay in The Fridge Safely?

Raw meat can stay in the fridge safely for 3-5 days. But cooked meat can last a maximum of 3 days. Beyond that, the meat is unsafe for human consumption.


References:

  1. https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-is-the-2-Hour-Rule-with-leaving-food-out
  2. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/vinegar/
  3. https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/live-well-eat-well/2016-09-16-how-important-2-hour-ru
  4. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics
  5. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/08/28/are-you-sure-it-wasnt-food-poisoning
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About the author

Timothy Woods
CEO / Co-Founder
Timothy Woods holds a Kinesiology and Exercise Science degree from Jacksonville University and is CCC & GMU Certified. He's also the main man behind Carnivore Style. This food aficionado combines science and experience to spread the word about the carnivore lifestyle.
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