When refrigerating steaks before cooking them, the ideal fridge storage time is as short as possible. With meat, fresher is better. To reap flavorful, fresh and juicy rewards, move the steak as soon as possible from the butcher's counter to your grill or skillet. However, the ideal is rarely realistic, and you have plenty of time to store your steaks in the fridge before they spoil.
Essentially, heat -- specifically temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit -- encourages the growth of bacteria. As such, a fridge set at a temperature of 40 degrees or less slows down bacterial growth, though not indefinitely. Raw beef, lamb, veal and pork steaks, as well as similar cuts such as chops and roasts, can keep for about three to five days in the refrigerator, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Because of the significantly cooler temperature, your steaks have a much longer life in the freezer than they do in the refrigerator. FoodSafety.gov estimates that fresh beef, lamb, pork and veal steaks hold up for six to 12 months in freezers with temperatures of 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Color changes may occur during freezing, just as they sometimes do during refrigeration.
Color changes in meat are actually normal. As you store your steaks in the refrigerator or freezer, they may fade or darken over time, and oxidation sometimes causes steaks to take on a brownish hue. These processes are harmless; the key to identifying a spoiled steak lies in smell and touch. While fresh steaks don't have a strong smell, spoiled steaks emit a rancid, sour odor. When your steaks have gone bad, they also have a slick, sticky or slimy texture. Avoid eating any steaks that exhibit these characteristics.
If you have leftovers, you can refrigerate cooked steaks for about three to four days before they go bad, or freeze them for two to six months. According to FoodSafety.gov, refrigerator and freezer storage times remain the same for steaks and other meats that have been vacuum packaged at home. In any case, seal your steaks in plastic wraps, zip bags or airtight containers to retain as much freshness as possible before cooking.
With a diverse professional background and a decade of experience as a freelance writer, Dan has contributed lifestyle content -- from fashion to travel to fitness and more -- to publishers including Chron, Fortune, Sony, GlobalPost, ModernMom, Moviefone, Salon.com, Techwalla and dozens of others.