Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: March 7, 2023

As a devout carnivore, I always thaw my frozen meats before cooking. But sometimes, I get carried away with other things that I forget about the meat, and it ends up sitting out on the counter longer than I had planned.

But is this really safe health-wise?

I talked to an expert butcher and a dietician and put the puzzle pieces together.

Read on to find out if it's safe to leave meat at room temperature and for how long you should do so.

Quick Summary

  • Raw steak and other meat should not sit out for more than two hours.
  • At room temperature, bacteria start growing rapidly in raw meat within 20 minutes.
  • The foul smell and strange color of any meat indicate that it's rancid and unsafe for consumption.
  • Eating spoiled meats and contaminated food can cause food poisoning.

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 exposed to 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. It shouldn't take more than two hours for the food to defrost on the counter. It is safer to defrost your meat and other perishable food in the refrigerator.

Additionally, don't let your cooked meat sit for any longer than two hours because germs start to proliferate past the two-hour time limit.

Also Read: How Long Can Ham Sit Out?

5 Signs That Meat Has Gone Bad

Here are four pointers to help you know if a raw steak has gone bad.

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.

Read More: Do You Wash Meat Before Cooking?

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. It will be clear or yellowish in hue and give the steak a glossier-than-usual appearance.

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 any of 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.

Now, even though a dry, juiceless cut isn't a 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.

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

Doing this will prevent them from being exposed 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 it should be consumed.

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

You might want to toss it out if you can't recall how long it's been since you placed it in the refrigerator to defrost.

Dangers of Leaving Steak Out

A close up image of a raw steak

Here are two potential dangers of leaving steak out 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 longer 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.


Can I Let Raw Beef Sit at Room Temperature Overnight?

No, you cannot let raw meat 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 there is on the meat sitting 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 meats are unsafe for human consumption.

Is Leaving Raw Meat Out a Good Idea?

Bacteria multiply in raw meat the longer it is kept at room temperature. The meat won't be safe to eat after that, and it can cause food poisoning even if cooked at a high temperature.

To avoid contaminated meat, make sure to order from reputable sources like ButcherBox.

I love ButcherBox because they offer 100% grass-fed beef, free-range organic chicken, humanely raised pork, and wild-caught seafood. Their meat is delivered to your doorstep, perfectly preserved, insulated, and freshly frozen so you don’t have to worry about its quality.


  1. https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-is-the-2-Hour-Rule-with-leaving-food-out
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/microbial-growth&ved
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