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Food Safety Issues/Safety of browned partially cooked homemade meatballs


I browned meatballs with the intention of making tomato sauce the following day, and adding the meatballs to fully cook them. I refrigerated the partially cooked meatballs. How long are the browned partially cold meatballs safe in the refrigerator before fully cooking them in sauce?

Hi Maria,

Partially cooking meatballs is not recommended because of the increase chance for bacterial growth. Every time that foods that require temperature control for safety (meats, poultry, fish, cooked carbohydrates, etc) pass through the "Danger Zone" -- 41 to 135 degrees F -- you increase the chances that any bacteria present may grow.  

Bacteria that cause man harm really like temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees -- and especially temperatures from 70 to 110 degrees.  When you partially cook foods it is most likely that the internal temperature is within this temperature range, and bacteria just love it and grow very, very quickly (doubling every 15-30 minutes).

Now I can just hear you saying, "But if I cook the meatballs, won't the bacteria be killed?"  Yes, any live bacteria will be killed but the problem is that some bacteria produce a harmful waste product (toxin) while they are growing and this toxin is not deactivated by heat.  In other words, cooking a food after it has been temperature abused does not guarantee that it will be safe to consume.  To add insult to injury, bacteria that cause man harm do not give off any signals that they are present. You can't see, taste or smell them so the food can look perfectly fine, smell wonderful and taste magnificent and can still make you ill.

So....I can't really answer your question as to how long can partially cooked meatballs can be safely refrigerated.  There is no recommendation for how long to keep partially cooked potentially hazardous foods because of the increased chances for bacterial growth.

Raw meatballs in the refrigerated should be cooked or frozen within 1-2 days of preparation. Fully cooked meatballs can be refrigerated 3-4 days before they need to be frozen for future consumption.


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Carol Schlitt


I can answer questions on home food safety, sanitation and home food preservation.


I am a former Extension educator, nutrition, wellness and food safety, having retired August 1, 2010. I am a food safety instructor for the Illinois Department of Public Health, a ServSafe Instructor/Proctor and have my own company, Safe & Savory Solutions, Inc -

National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (Past President and current Historian), St. Louis Culinary Society.

BS - University of Illinois MS - Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

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