How Long Does Taco Meat Last?
Taco meat is a delicious combination of fatty beef, sauteed onions, vegetables, and everyone’s favorite taco seasoning. But when it comes to food safety, it is also a potentially dangerous ticking time bomb.
How long does taco meat last? Taco meat can last up to 2-3 days in the fridge at 40F. The meat has to be stored in an airtight container to maintain its flavor and quality. It can last up to 2-3 months in the freezer at 0F while room-temperature taco meat will usually only be safe for up to 2 hours.
Read below to learn more about why taco meat requires attention and what you can do to extend its shelf life.
What’s in Taco Meat?
Taco meat can be prepared in several ways. The basic recipe for any good taco filling starts with high-quality meat.
The meat is usually 80/20 ground beef, where 80% is lean meat, while 20% is fat. Some people might also enjoy fattier meat with a 70/30 ratio.
The addition of extra fat not only adds flavor but can also affect the texture of the taco meat by adding moisture.
The meat is cooked in a skillet along with a range of ground spices and condiments like onions, and chopped vegetables. Taco meat may also be cooked with a splash of broth or tomato paste to add depth to the overall flavor.
When the meat is cooked, it is filled in between toasted taco shells and topped with salsa, lettuce, onions, and sometimes additional condiments.
Now, what we have just described is undoubtedly one of mankind’s finest creations in gastronomy, but not many people know how to properly store taco meat.
Taco meat contains a lot of ingredients with a low shelf life. For example, the meat itself contains fat, moisture, and a range of nutrients – which are both delicious to us and bacteria.
There are many other ingredients in taco meat like tomatoes, onions, and vegetables that are equally prone to going bad if not stored properly.
This means that if left at room temperature, taco meat can potentially become compromised within two hours!
In favorable conditions, bacteria populations can grow exponentially every 20 minutes. This means that a single bacterium can multiply into thousands if not millions within 2 hours.
But there are a few ways that you can slow down their growth and extend the shelf life of not just taco meat, but every meat-based recipe in general.
Storing Taco Meat – The Right Way
There are primarily three ways to store taco meat:
The refrigeration method is the easiest and most convenient way to store taco meat. Leftovers must be kept in an airtight container at the back of the fridge at 40F within two hours of serving.
The back of the fridge is an ideal spot because it’s away from the door which can cause a discrepancy in temperature as you open and close the fridge door over a day.
The difference isn’t much, but on a hot day, it can be enough to expedite spoilage.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to store taco meat in the fridge:
Step 1) Thoroughly clean the airtight container using warm water and dishwashing soap to kill off any bacteria.
Step 2) Wipe the inside of the container with a clean cloth and make sure it’s dry.
Step 3) Spread the meat inside the container so that it evenly covers all the surface of the container.
Step 4) Store the leftovers at the back of the fridge at 40F and consume within 2-3 days for the best flavor and texture.
Freezing is a great way to get the most out of the shelf life of taco meat. The best way to store it is to shift the leftovers in a freezer-safe plastic bag with an airtight zip lock.
Alternatively, you can also use a freezer-safe container to store the leftovers.
Freeze the taco meat at 0F and consume it within 2-3 months for the best quality.
We don’t recommend that you use glass containers as they might shatter, especially if they aren’t rated for freezer storage. You can follow the same steps as listed in the refrigeration method to store taco meat in the freezer.
Canning is perhaps one of the best ways to store taco meat while on the go. Canning creates a pressure seal that protects the food from bacteria and oxidization.
If done successfully, canned taco meat can be shelf stable and can be kept for up to a week without refrigeration.
Before trying this method please be advised that canning requires a lot of attention and practice. Even a slight error during the canning process can cause the food to go bad. Canned meat must also be stored in a cool and dry place and an opened jar must be refrigerated and consumed within 2-3 days.
There are several guides on how to can meat and if you have canned food before, then you can use the same procedure to can taco meat too!
For the best experience, consume canned meat within 3-5 days and always check for signs of spoilage before consuming it.
Signs of Spoilage in Taco Meat
Here are a few common signs of spoilage for leftover taco meat:
Even if you have stored taco meat properly, always check the quality of the leftovers before reheating. A common indicator of spoilage is a distinct foul odor. When meat goes bad, the bacteria produce toxins that alter the aroma of the food.
This odor is easy to detect so if you notice any deviation from the original aroma, then it’s safe to assume that the meat has spoiled.
Since taco meat contains highly acidic ingredients like tomatoes and salsa, it can alter the appearance of soft ingredients like onions and other vegetables. While subtle discoloration is normal, if you notice deep discoloration in the meat, then it’s likely that it has gone bad.
Change in Flavor
Even if you don’t notice the above two signs, you can taste some of the meat to check its quality. If the meat tastes exactly like how it was the day it was made, then it will be safe to reheat. But if you notice a change in flavor then this may indicate that the taco meat has been compromised.
Here’s an easy chart for the storage time of taco meat in different storage conditions:
|Storage Type||Storage Duration|
|Fridge (40F)||2-3 Days|
|Freezer (0F)||2-3 Months|
|Room Temperature (68-70F)||2 Hours|
*Stored in a cool and dry place at room temperature. Must be perfectly canned.
Defrosting and Heating Method
Before reheating frozen taco meat, it’s best to first defrost it. The best way to safely defrost it would be to leave the container in the fridge overnight. Do not defrost at room temperature!
You can also defrost the taco meat in the microwave using the defrost setting. Once defrosted, you can use the methods below to finish reheating the meat.
Reheating Stored Taco Meat
Taco meat can be reheated using several heating methods.
Here are the top three reheating methods for stored taco meat:
- Pan Reheating
- Defrosting and Heating
To reheat taco meat, simply empty the contents of the airtight container in a pan and add a splash of water. Remember, food can lose moisture when it’s stored in the fridge or freezer. But if you notice enough moisture in the leftovers, then you don’t need to add more water.
Reheat the taco meat over medium flame and stir occasionally until the meat begins to sizzle. You should ideally reheat the taco meat to about 165F to kill off potential bacteria in the food. Please be careful using this method as overheating the meat can cause it to dry up.
The microwave method is by far the easiest and quickest way to reheat taco meat. Simply place the leftovers in a microwave-safe plate and then reheat it at the highest setting for 1-2 minutes. You may have to add more time depending on the quantity of the meat.
Taco meat may not have a stable shelf life, but you can follow a few simple best practices to maintain its original quality! Now that you know how long taco meat can last, here are some related questions:
Can you consume 5-day-old stored taco meat?
It is not recommended that you consume 5-day-old taco meat, even if it has been stored properly in the fridge.
Apart from a potential health hazard, the leftovers might also lose their flavor and texture, especially when it comes to the onions and vegetables in the meat.
Can you store taco shells with meat in the fridge?
We don’t recommend that you store prepared tacos in the fridge for more than a few hours. Taco meat contains moisture that can turn the taco shells soggy. For the best experience, store the meat and taco shells separately.