In this article, we will answer the question “How long can you eat meat after the sell-by date?”, and how long does meat last in the fridge and freezer?
How long can you eat meat after the sell-by date?
Ground meat and poultry can be safely eaten 1-2 days past the sell-by date, while beef can be consumed 3-5 days past this date. More details are given on the expiration dates of all the meat and related products in the article below.
Understanding expiration dates
The printed dates on the meat packages are not an indicator of safety but quality. A best-by or best-before date is an estimate of how long the product will be at its best quality.
A sell-by date is intended for the retailer and it helps predict how long the product should be displayed on the shelves.
The use-by date is an estimate of how long the product will keep in its peak quality (infant formula is an exception).
A freeze-by date tells you when you should freeze the given product. None of these dates have to do anything with the safety of the food product.
Why you should trust your senses?
Rather than relying on the printed dates to gauge the wholesomeness of the meats and poultry, it is recommended to trust your senses.
Because it is more safe and accurate. However, if the food is stored incorrectly, it may develop pathogenic bacteria without you knowing.
For example, meat or poultry products sitting on the counter for more than 2 hours are unsafe for consumption as per the USDA. But their appearance, smell, and texture tell you otherwise.
So, the prerequisite is to meticulously follow the food safety guidelines and then test the quality perimeters using your senses.
Meat expiration dates: Raw meat
The following recommended expiration dates are for peak quality only. If stored correctly, meat remains safe beyond the time frames given below.
|Ground meat (beef, turkey lamb, and pork)||1-2 days|
|Meat steaks and joints (e.g., lamb leg, beef steaks, pork loin chops)||3-5 days|
|Poultry parts (e.g., chicken legs and thighs)||1-2 days|
|Whole chicken/turkey||1-2 days|
Meat cooking considerations
To make sure that meat is thoroughly cooked to a safe temperature, use a thermometer to correctly measure the internal temperature of the meat.
The minimum safe internal temperature for chicken and turkey is 165℉ and 145℉ for beef, lamb, and pork joints. Last but not the least, ground meat, including homemade hamburgers, should reach an internal safe temperature of 160℉.
It is important to remember that toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria are heat resistant and are not destroyed by cooking temperatures.
Therefore, it is not wise to think that cooking meat, that has been sitting out for more than 2 hours in the ‘Danger zone’, will make the meat safe. The danger zone range, as defined by the USDA, is 40-140℉. Bacteria grow exponentially at these temperatures.
Meat expiration dates: Cooked meat
It is safer to follow the sell-by dates more meticulously for pre-cooked deli meats and poultry due to the absence of a home-coking step. The following table shows an estimated safety and quality time window for pre-cooked meats and leftovers.
|In the fridge|
|Pre-packaged ham/luncheon/deli meat||3-5 days )after opening)|
|Hard, dry pepperoni sausage, sliced||2-3 weeks|
|Meat paté||1 week|
|Bone-in whole ham||1 week|
|Meat or poultry leftovers||3-4 days|
How long does fresh meat last in the freezer?
|Type of fresh meat||Freezer (0F or below)|
|Hamburger, ground beef, turkey, veal, pork, lamb, mixtures of them & products made with any of these ingredients||3-4 months|
|Chicken or turkey, whole||1 year|
|Chicken or turkey, pieces||9 months|
Check fridge and freezer temperatures
Buy meat and dairy products at the end of your grocery shopping so that they can be refrigerated as soon as possible.
Make sure your fridge is maintained at a steady temperature of 40℉ or below. Use a built-in thermometer or hand candy thermometer to gauge the internal temperature of your fridge. Keep the meat stored at the lowest shelf of the fridge to prevent cross-contamination.
Is it true that food loses its nutritional value before expiration?
Yes, this is particularly true for fresh fruits and veggies and foods that are exposed to extreme cooking temperatures. For example. Orange juice loses much of its vitamins and other nutrients when frequently exposed to air and light. This can happen way before the expiry.
In this article, we answered the question “How long can you eat meat after the sell-by date?”, and how long does meat last in the fridge and freezer?