I was recently told quite emphatically that "Storing meat in plastic makes it spoil 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.

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?

6 Answers 6


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)

  • Does sliminess equal "going off"?
    – Niall
    May 5, 2014 at 11:57
  • 2
    @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, 2014 at 12:10

To the point of why people would think that plastic spoils faster, aside from a lot of propaganda and some truth about some plastics: Plastic has a habit of retaining past life experiences lets say. I am talking reusable plastic containers of course, not plastic films or other single use items. Older plastic storage containers and ones with rough or slightly porous surfaces are more prone to this that some others. If you have had one item spoil in a container, that container may have an increased chance of retaining some level of contamination which the thought is would lead to faster spoiling of future items.

To me, and this is opinion only, no research to back it up, if plastic is the correct medium for storage depends on the item. Meat, items like deli meats, I would definitely choose plastic myself, sealed air tight and preferable with as little air exposure as possible. Similarly with any other item which is cut, prone to drying out, or where in general air exposure helps speed deterioration. Ground meat would definitely fit in that category as well. Cheeses for instance, air means drying and mold, bad, I use plastic.

Now, some items, say a good steak or roast, now you are in different territory. Some air circulation can suddenly be a very good thing to allow the meat to dry out a bit and age. Most people get a steak or roast that seems almost tasteless and they think it is poor meat or poor cooking and actually, the meat may simply be too fresh. Aging that same piece of meat though in air-tight plastic would result in the meat deteriorating and going off rather than losing a bit of the extra moisture and concentrating the flavor, which is part or the goal of aging. (Yes, I know that aging a steak is sometimes referred to as controlled spoilage, but controlled is the key word there.) Likewise, some items, I am thinking of some fruits like fresh strawberries especially if they were over watered, will spoil much faster if they do not have any air circulation and none of the moister can escape.


It seems better to keep it in the original hard plastic container than transfer it to a plastic bag. It seems to me the packaging for the product would have been well researched to keep their product fresh.

  • 2
    Hello, and welcome to Stack Exchange. Do you have any sort of reference to back this up, other than your own guess? May 28, 2017 at 16:55

Air is the problem. When you butcher. Put up meat. Use plastic but remove all air. It causes freezer burn. When you open a package you expose it to air. This causes spoilage faster. It is illegal in the U.S. now. But they use to put nitrogen in the packs before setting out. This keeps food fresh. Till opened. So plastic or paper. The more times food is exposed to air. The faster it will spoil.


I routinely store my cooked meat in a container uncovered. After a number of days it does tend to dry out but it lasts longer and always tastes better.

Question: Who of us hasn't, at one time or another, gone into our refrigerators and found a forgotten closed plastic container with a furry (or worse a slurry) of leftover food? At what point do you suppose the decomposition process began? I have to believe it pretty much starts at the moment you close the lid. It might not be noticeable for a day or two. But after a few days cooked meat stored in air tight containers just doesn't smell right.

A week ago I BBQ'd a pork butt which I sliced and served. I had left-overs. I put the leftovers in an open (no lid) container. Before putting them into the fridge I sprinkled them with a little sea salt and olive oil and tossed it to mix well. I stored it uncovered. This kept the meat fresh and the oil helps to stop it from drying out. There are still a few pieced left and a week later it's still brilliantly fresh.


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.

  • 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. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_wrap 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. May 5, 2014 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, 2014 at 11:48
  • 5
    @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, 2014 at 11:57
  • 3
    @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, 2014 at 12:07
  • 1
    @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, 2014 at 12:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.