What happens if you left your pork out overnight? Can it still be salvaged, or do you need to toss it? And does it make a difference if the meat was cooked or raw? We’re here to answer these questions.
Pork Left Out Overnight
If you’ve left pork out overnight, your only safe bet is to discard it. When kept at temps between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for too long, the meat attracts hazardous bacteria. There’s no way to tell whether this has occurred, and cooking or reheating the meat won’t help, so tossing it is the only way to go.
Raw Pork Left Out Overnight
It’s a classic scenario: You brought in the groceries, but forgot one bag in the car. And that bag just happened to contain the meat products—and you left it out there overnight. Is the pork still safe to eat?
The answer is an unqualified no. You should never attempt to cook and consume any meat that’s been left unrefrigerated for more than 2 hours. In fact, when the temperature is 90 degrees or higher, that safe window decreases to 1 hour.
Although cooking pork to 145 degrees will typically destroy any dangerous bacteria, this isn’t the case if the meat has already spent too long at room temperature. That means throwing it out is your only safe option.
It’s disappointing to throw away pork after you’ve spent good money on it. But it’s better than contracting a serious illness after consuming contaminated meat.
Cooked Pork Left Out Overnight
What if you forgot to put your leftover cooked pork in the fridge and it sat out overnight? Sadly, the answer is the same: the meat should be discarded.
When meat is stored at temps below 40 degrees, the bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses are kept at bay (at least for a time, as we’ll discuss later). But in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees, those bacteria multiply rapidly.
Even if you cooked the pork to a safe temperature, you still need to refrigerate leftovers within a 2-hour period, or 1 hour in hot weather. Keep these guidelines in mind the next time you wind up with leftover pork.
How Long Does Pork Keep in the Fridge?
Whether it’s cooked or raw, pork should keep in the fridge for up to 4 days before it starts to exhibit signs of spoilage (see below). There are even steps you can take to ensure that the meat retains its freshness as long as possible.
For one, keep the meat wrapped tightly. Don’t remove raw pork from its original packaging until you’re ready to cook it. Leftovers should be stored in airtight containers or zip-top bags.
Store meat products on the bottom shelf of the fridge, away from the door. Every time you open the door, the environment is exposed to a blast of warmer air. You want to keep the meat as far from that warm air as you can.
We would suggest cooking the pork on the day you buy it, or the next day at the latest. If you need to wait longer than 3 days, store it in the freezer instead.
When stored at 0 degrees or below, the pork will keep indefinitely—at least in theory. It’s better to thaw and consume it within 6 months. Otherwise, it will start to dry out. Smaller and leaner cuts, like pork chops and tenderloin, should be thawed within 3 months.
How To Tell if Pork is Bad
You can use the sell-by date as a general guideline when storing fresh pork. However, this date is only there as a reminder to the people working in the store where you bought it. To test pork for freshness, you’ll need to rely on your senses.
Pork that’s outlasted its freshness may also turn different colors. Inspect the flesh to make sure it’s pink in color, with no iridescent patches or spots of mold.
You can also run a finger along the surface of the meat. If it’s starting to spoil, the flesh may have a tacky or slimy texture.
Remember, though, that you have to discard the pork if it spent all night outside the fridge. That’s true whether it exhibits any of these signs or not. The bacteria that cause illness aren’t visible to the naked eye, so you need to err on the side of caution.
How To Defrost Pork
You should never attempt to defrost pork—or any meat—by leaving it out on the counter. Although the inside may still be frozen, the surface will be exposed to room temperature for too long, putting it squarely within the danger zone.
Our recommendation is to thaw frozen meat products in the refrigerator. It requires a bit of planning ahead, but this technique will give you more leeway in terms of time.
With this method, large cuts like pork butt should thaw at a rate of about 24 hours for each pound of meat. Pork chops and tenderloin might thaw within a few hours, but we would still recommend pulling them from the freezer the day before you plan to cook them.
Once the meat is thawed, you have a window of 2 to 3 days to cook or refreeze it. The time frame depends on how fresh the pork was when you put it in the freezer. If you froze it right off, you have more time than you would if it already spent 3 days in the fridge.
If you’re pressed for time, you can thaw the pork in a cold water bath. Make sure it’s sealed in an airtight package, and submerge it in cold water for 30 minutes per pound. Swap out the cold water every 30 minutes until the meat is thawed.
It’s important to note that you’ll need to cook off the pork right away if you thaw it using this method. That’s why you should rely on it only if you need to fire up the grill as soon as possible.
You can thaw smaller cuts of pork using the microwave as well, but we don’t recommend it. The microwave will cook off sections of the meat before the rest of it has had a chance to thaw. It’s better to save this unit for reheating leftovers—and only as a last resort.
We should also point out that you can cook many cuts of pork without thawing them first, as long as you multiply the estimated cooking time by 50 percent. It’s best not to use this technique for larger cuts, though—mostly because they take so long to cook anyway.
What About Processed Pork Products?
Some processed meats containing pork—such as summer sausage—can be stored safely at room temperature for 4 to 6 weeks. That’s because the curing process uses nitrates and other compounds to stave off bacteria, keeping the product shelf-stable.
That said, you should refrigerate the sausage once the package is open. In fact, you can prolong the shelf life of summer sausage by refrigerating it from the beginning. Kept in this manner, the sausage should keep for several months instead of weeks.
Sadly, there’s no safe way to salvage pork left out overnight. Be sure to keep the meat properly refrigerated before you cook it, and put all leftovers away as soon as they’ve had a chance to cool.