Do Ready Meals Have To Be Refrigerated?

Last Updated on May 24th, 2023

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After a long day at work, preparing a nice hearty meal can feel very overwhelming. Ready meals are a great alternative when you don’t have the time or energy to cook. You simply put the meal in the microwave and follow the cooking instructions on the box.

Now, what if you wake up and realize that you’ve left your meal on the counter all night? Is it still good to eat, or does it need to be refrigerated?

Again, the short answer is yes. Ready meals need to be refrigerated or frozen, depending on which you buy, until you’re ready to eat them.

Why Should You Do it?

Bacteria need a specific temperature to grow. Keeping your fridge at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower slows the growth rate of bacteria, keeping food safe to eat for longer. You shouldn’t keep your food out for over two hours to avoid food poisoning.

You can get food poisoning if you eat poorly handled food. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, so trust me, it’s not fun. If you do end up with food poisoning, be sure to stay as hydrated as possible.


Can You Eat a Ready Meal that Was Left Out Overnight?

It’s typically advised that you throw away foods left outside the fridge for more than two hours. This is because bacteria grow more rapidly at room temperature, and I wouldn’t risk getting food poisoning because I accidentally left the food on the counter.

However, choosing to eat the ready meal or not is up to your discretion. Consider the meal’s packaging and the temperature of your kitchen or climate. If the meal is heat-sealed and you live in a cooler place, you could take the risk and eat it.


How Long Can Ready Meals Be out of the Fridge?

You shouldn’t leave your ready meals out of the fridge for more than two hours, and be sure to put them away until you’re ready to eat them. The point of ready meals is that they’re easy to pull out, heat up, and eat, so you don’t waste your time defrosting them.

With that being said, accidents happen. If you’ve forgotten and left your ready meal out of the fridge, the maximum time is eight hours. This only applies if the food still looks good and has been kept in a cool environment with no possible way of bugs getting in.


What Happens if You Leave Ready Meals Out for Too Long?

Bacteria start growing immediately. In just seven hours, one bacterium can multiply into over two million. Once that happens, you’ll see fuzzy mold growing on your food, and it’ll start producing an unpleasant odor. This is because food rots quickly when left out.

If you see your food start to mold, look a weird color, or smell rancid, those are signs that the food is no longer edible. Unfortunately, once this happens, you can’t salvage it, and there is no way of freezing it or heating it to make it edible for you again.


What Happens to Ready Meals Once You Put them in a Fridge?

While bacteria multiply at room temperature, it slows significantly when kept in a regulated cool temperature like a fridge. For example, if you leave milk out, it’ll spoil within a couple of hours, but if you put it in the refrigerator, it can last up to a few weeks.

Slowing bacteria isn’t the only thing fridges can do either. A bunch of enzymes in food will progress the process of degrading, causing food to be brown and become mushy. Refrigeration and freezing are two of the most common ways we preserve food today.


Final Thoughts on Do Ready Meals have to be Refrigerated

Ready meals are an excellent option when you get home after a long day and don’t want to cook.

However, when eating ready meals, you must store them in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to heat them and eat them. Refrigeration is the most common way we preserve food today.

Keeping food at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower will help slow bacteria growth and slow enzymes within the food from degrading it.

It’s recommended that you throw away food kept out of the fridge for 2 hours or more. Then, if you want to eat it, look for signs that it may be bad first.