Can I refrigerate meat and poultry in its store wrapping?

That depends upon the type of packaging that was used. If the product was packaged in a way that protects it from oxygen, it should stay in the store wrapping for refrigeration; the wrapping will keep it fresh much longer than if you re-wrap it yourself. 


There are 3 types of pre-packaging used for fresh meat and poultry:


Tray-wrapped products (on almost-flat styrofoam trays) are covered with a permeable plastic wrap that does not protect the product from oxygen. Most of the fresh meat and poultry sold in stores today are in this type of packaging.  Meat and poultry can be refrigerated in this type of wrapping but only for 1-2 days. After that, the item should be consumed or re-wrapped tightly and frozen.


MAP packaging is the short name for products in “modified atmosphere packaging.”  You can recognize this type of packaging because the food is in deeper containers.  The product is covered with plastic. Then, the oxygen is removed, and the meat or poultry is surrounded by other gases.   Products that are refrigerated in this protective wrapping will have a longer shelf life than the tray-wrapped ones described above.  Some MAP ground beef can be stored in the fridge for 10-12 days!


VP (vacuum-packed) products are wrapped in heavy, durable plastic; then the oxygen is removed.  Left in VP wrapping, a product can stay fresh in the fridge for weeks.  “That’s why the meat industry ships a lot of VP product overseas,” food scientist Catherine Cutter explained. 


If you purchase unwrapped meat or poultry and the butcher wraps it in paper, you can leave it in the paper if it’s tightly wrapped and taped.  However, if it’s loosely wrapped, it should be re-wrapped to better protect it.  Because paper is more permeable than plastic and therefore allows more oxygen to reach the product, it’s best to rewrap tightly in plastic. 


For freezing, meat and poultry must be tightly wrapped to prevent freezer burn (also caused by oxygen).  Freezer burn does not make food dangerous to eat, but it dries it out, thereby damaging the texture and taste. Only vacuum-packed meat and poultry should go into the freezer in the store wrapping.


If your product is wrapped in paper, tray-wrapped, or wrapped in modified atmosphere packaging, for the best protection, re-wrap it in plastic freezer wrap or a plastic freezer bag.


With a kitchen-sized vacuum packager, you can also vacuum-package products yourself before freezing.




Catherine N. Cutter, Ph.D. Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science


General Guidelines for Wrapping Foods


What’s better for wrapping food—plastic or aluminum foil?

What produce needs to be wrapped before refrigerating?

Should I wrap raw vegetables loosely or tightly before refrigerating?

How should fruits be wrapped before refrigeration?

How should food be handled and wrapped for freezing?


Using Plastic Wraps, Bags, and Containers


Are some plastic wraps more effective than others?

Can chemicals leach unto food from plastic wrap or containers?

Are any plastic wraps or containers really “microwave safe”?

Can I use plastic freezer bags to store produce in the fridge?

Do coated plastic bags really help produce last longer?


Using Aluminum Foil Properly


What are some advantages and disadvantages of aluminum foil?

Does exposure to aluminum cause Alzheimer’s disease?

Does aluminum foil give foods a metallic taste?

Why does foil sometimes darken, discolor, and leave black specks on food?

Will a foil cover help keep foods on the table hot or cold?

Is it safe to use aluminum foil in a microwave oven?



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