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I was recently told quite emphatically that "Storing meat in plastic makes it go off much faster"

I suspect that this is an old wives tale, but haven't been able to find anything that either proves or disproves the statement.

I was told that it's true whether it's plastic from packaging(say, plastic bags for sliced ham, a chicken in cling-film...anything.) or if the meat is being stored in Tupperware.

Assume that the meat is stored in a fridge.

By "Go off" I mean to become unsafe for human consumption, rather than lowering in quality.

It wasn't suggested that it was caused by anything leaching from the plastic, like BpA.

If this is either true or false, I would really like to know why?

Many thanks!

Bonus Question: If it's not true, are there some reasons why someone might think that it is? Built up smell? Different moisture level?

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The question is 'plastic vs. what else?'

I admit I've never done side-by side tests to prove it, but from my observations, when the deli I went to switched from butcher paper to zip-top plastic bags, sliced lunchmeats wouldn't last in the fridge as long. They'd start getting slimy around two weeks.**

I've noticed the same thing (although longer time frames) with firm and hard cheeses, and my solution for those has been to wrap the cheese in a paper towel, then put it back in the plastic bag.

I suspect that the issue is moisture buildup (you open the packet, let in cold air, it condenses in the freezer, etc.), and if this is the case, then other non-porous materials (glass, metal), would be equally bad for storage, especially as you can't then squeeze them to remove the air. The butcher paper always stays at roughtly the size of the item being wrapped.

... but still, even if we did experiments, to say it's always bad, we'd have to also test raw meats, ground and whole (and for moisture, many stores put those little diaper pads in the containers), tightly vs. loosely wrapped, and a few other variables.

** Some health person is going to complain 'but you're not supposed to keep meat in the fridge for 2 weeks ... this was well preserved items like sweet bologna)

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Does sliminess equal "going off"? – Niall May 5 '14 at 11:57
@Niall : it wasn't yet to the point of smelling funny (at least not to my nose), but it was such that I really didn't want to risk eating it. (and I'm typically willing to eat things way past their 'best by' date and such ... but there was a mucilagenous quality to the slime) – Joe May 5 '14 at 12:10

There is no reason to believe that meat spoils more quickly in plastic than it does in any other type of container, given proper sanitation.

There is no reasonable way to prove a negative--for example, you cannot prove that there is no such thing as unicorns. Sighting a unicorn would demonstrate that they do exist, but failure to site one may only mean that they hide quite well.

I am not aware of a credible study that shows plastic containers shorten shelf life for meat, but this is not evidence one can point at. Perhaps it is just hiding.

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Plastic wrap is usually about 12.5 um thick (0.5 mils). If you stretch it much thinner than that it'll start passing more water. That'll cause your food to dry. Apparently testing water permiability of various plastic films is a popular science fair project, so real numbers are hard to find. With decent commercial films, and reasonable fridge times, it's not usually a problem. – Wayfaring Stranger May 5 '14 at 11:42
@WayfaringStranger It is well known that thin plastic wrap--or even some of the less expensive zip type bags--are permeable. But given the specific example of Tupperware in the question, I didn't take drying to be the meaning intended. :-) There, it still reduces drying compared to no covering at all :-) – SAJ14SAJ May 5 '14 at 11:48
@SAJ14SAJ : you seem to like taking the 'argumentum ad ignorantiam' route -- just because you can't prove it's true, it must not be true. This might not be such a problem, but you answer so many questions on this site within an hour of them being posted, if you have a constructive answer or not. Some of your answers seem to be 'I found this through internet research' (you make comments suggesting you're not an expert on the topic, then you write an expert-sounding answer, but this one is an 'I didn't even bother to look because I assume it to not be true'. – Joe May 5 '14 at 11:57
@SAJ14SAJ : you can't do a comprehensive search in under an hour. What were you using? Web of Science? Google Scholar? Or just Google web search? 2nd hit under Google Scholar for 'meat plastic storage' was Microbial spoilage of luncheon meat prepared in an impermeable plastic casing. Fifth was The Effect of Film Permeability on the Storage Life and Microbiology of Vacuum‐packed meat – Joe May 5 '14 at 12:07
@SAJ14SAJ : JSTOR now has a program where you can read a few articles free, if you register. Also, it's possible that some of the biological process articles would be in NIH's PubMed Central, which are all free. Due to an OSTP memo last year, research done using money from most US federal agencies will have to be made freely available in the future. – Joe May 5 '14 at 12:19

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