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How Long Does Cooked Meat Last in the Fridge?

Reduce food waste, save money and have peace of mind with these guidelines for deciding how long meat can be safely stored in your fridge

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Food safety and meat

One in six, or 48 million, Americans get food poisoning each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (And if you’ve been one of those you might have still wondered if you were dying even if your case wasn’t severe enough to need medical attention.)

But where are these foodborne illnesses all coming from? It can be tricky to figure out the exact source of an outbreak, but the CDC estimates that just under half can be attributed to meat and seafood.

“When it comes to avoiding illness from animal products, it’s essential to learn how to properly handle and cook meat and seafood, including knowing how to store it both before and after cooking,” says Candess Zona-Mendola, a food and water safety advocate and editor of MakeFoodSafe.com.

Animal products can contain pathogenic bacteria and/or spoilage bacteria, and while refrigeration slows bacterial growth, it doesn’t stop it, according to the USDA. The guidelines for refrigerating cooked meat are designed to keep food within the safety window for most types of bacterial growth. And it’s not just meat—we’ve got all the info on what “sell-by date” means, how long milk lasts, expired eggs and foods you should never eat past the expiration date.

cooked chicken in the fridgefoodandwinephotography/Getty Images

How long is cooked meat okay in the fridge?

The short answer is, generally one to five days, depending on the type of meat, how it was cooked and how it was handled, says Zona-Mendola.

Americans already waste an astonishing amount of good food, sometimes because they are unsure about the safety of cooked leftovers—but most food is wholesome, edible and safe long past the date on the label, says Emily Broad Leib, JD, faculty director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School.

There are a few exceptions, including deli meat and unpasteurized dairy products, which can increase in risk over time, so you should throw those away once they are past the date on the package, she adds. “Do use your best judgment and use your senses. If it smells or looks spoiled, it probably is,” Leib says.

But that leftover hamburger or chicken salad? All meat should be stored in a tightly sealed container in a refrigerator set to 40 degrees or below. This will help you store cooked meat safely and reduce food waste, says Dana Gunders, executive director of ReFED and author of Waste-Free Kitchen. Freezing food can extend the life of your cooked meat much longer, she adds. Freezers should be set to zero degrees or lower—here’s exactly how to find out if your freezer is set to the right temperature.

We have the expert advice you need to confidently and safely store cooked meat.

How Long Does Cooked Meat Last In The Fridge InfographicRD.com, Getty Images (4)

Baked chicken in a pan, homemade foodQwart/Getty Images

Chicken

Refrigerator: 3–4 days

Freezer: 2–5 months

Buy pre-cooked chicken breasts in bulk or a Costco rotisserie chicken, and freeze single servings in freezer bags so you only have to defrost what you need.

cooked turkey on a dinner tablePandu Setiawan/Getty Images

Turkey

Refrigerator: 3–4 days

Freezer: 2–5 months

There are three safe ways to thaw frozen meat and poultry: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave, according to the USDA. But their preferred method, to optimize flavor and texture, is to thaw meat on a tray overnight in the refrigerator. Use these tips to buy the perfect turkey.

Burgers cooking onbarbecue grillWestend61/Getty Images

Beef

Refrigerator: 3–4 days

Freezer: 2–5 months

Thaw too much meat? You can safely refreeze thawed meat within two to four days, as long as it was thawed in your refrigerator. However, if you thawed the meat on your countertop or microwave, it can’t be refrozen. But don’t chuck it yet—you can cook the thawed meat and then safely freeze it after it’s cool.

Unrecognizable Man Cuting With Large Knife Baked Pork Tenderloin On Cutting BoardNatalia Gdovskaia/Getty Images

Pork

Refrigerator: 3–4 days

Freezer: 2–5 months

If you’re big into meal prep, consider investing in a vacuum sealer. These allow you to tightly wrap raw or cooked pork (or other meats and foods) without any air bubbles for better results when freezing.

Did you know there is a bottled water expiration date?

Carving Glazed Holiday Ham with ClovesGMVozd/Getty Images

Ham

Refrigerator: 3–5 days

Freezer: 1–2 months

Different cuts of ham may last longer in the freezer, depending on whether the ham is bone-in or boneless, and if it’s cured. Cured ham cut off the bone and sealed can last up to four months frozen.

Ham can be high in salt, but does salt ever expire?

hot dogpjohnson1/Getty Images

Precooked hot dogs

Refrigerator: 7 days or use-by date

Freezer: 1–2 months

Roasted bacon on cutting boardapomares/Getty Images

Bacon

Refrigerator: 3–4 days

Freezer: 1 month

You can freeze both cooked and raw bacon safely. For folks who only want to cook a few slices at a time, roll up individual slices of bacon, place on a tray and freeze overnight. Once frozen, put them in a freezer bag. When you’re ready to cook, just take out as many slices as you need. Next, find out when does butter expire.

Sausage

Fresh cooked sausage

Refrigerator: 3–4 days

Freezer: 2–3 months

Precooked or preserved sausage

Refrigerator: 3 weeks

Freezer: 1–2 months

If you want to freeze peppers and onions to go along with your sausage, it’s better to cook them first. Most vegetables contain a lot of water, which can make them get mushy after freezing them raw.

Canned sausage? Here’s everything you need to know about how long canned food lasts.

roasted salmon with vegetableslacaosa/Getty Images

Fish

Refrigerator: 2–3 days

Freezer: 1 month

Most fish can only be refrigerated for a day or two, but grilled salmon will keep up to four days in the fridge before needing to be frozen. When freezing raw fish, be sure to wrap tightly in freezer paper before putting it into a plastic bag.

Precooked deli meat

Refrigerator: 2 weeks if unopened, 3–5 days after opening or use-by date

Freezer: 1–2 months

Yes, you can freeze deli meat. If it’s been opened, wrap in plastic and seal in a bag; it will last one to two months in the freezer. Unopened packages of deli meat can be frozen in the package they came in, but you may want to put them inside another plastic bag to prevent freezer burn.

Chicken salad with dried cherryVeselovaElena/Getty Images

Deli salads

Refrigerator: 3–5 days

Deli salads such as chicken, tuna, egg or pasta salad will last three to five days in the fridge and should not be frozen. One reason? Mayonnaise is one of the foods that you should never freeze because when it thaws, it will separate, taking on a clumpy texture that’s anything but appetizing. Or try these foods that never expire.

Sources:

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte is a healthy living expert, covering health, fitness, parenting, and lifestyle. She has nearly 20 years of experience writing and is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment.