Leftover cooked venison, as with all other types of meat, won’t keep forever. Here’s how to store it properly and how long it’ll last.
Venison, whether we’re talking deer or elk, is a rare delicacy. Given the size of the animal, it also comes in large cuts of meat that take a while to cook and, more often than not, a crowd to eat up.
From roast neck to braised ribs to round steak and rump kebabs, the cuts are diverse and gratifying, and the aroma and flavor of the meat fit for kings and queens. But, as mouth-watering as they are, they are often quite large—and thus left over.
You’re here, so you know what we’re talking about. In fact, you cooked venison today and, now that everyone has reached their limit at the table, you found yourself wondering: How long does cooked venison last?
Cooked venison should be stored in an airtight food storage container and kept in the fridge where, according to the USDA, it will stay good for 3 to 4 days.
Cooked meat is a perishable product, and venison is no exception. As such, it sooner rather than later spoils and becomes unsafe to eat.
When it comes to cooked meat’s safety, there are two kinds of bacteria you need to know about. The first is the kind that can cause the meat to spoil, which makes it smell bad, taste repulsive, and feel sticky and mushy to the touch. The second is the kind that can give you food poisoning.
Spoiled meat is unsafe to eat for an array of reasons. And, despite lore to the contrary, reheating it won’t make it any more safe to eat. However, not all meat that doesn’t smell or taste bad is fit for consumption: Kept in the fridge for too long or, worse, left outa at room temperature, leftover cooked venison can be dangerous.
Why Cooked Venison Has a Short Shelf Life
For starters, it’s dead meat. It has no defense mechanisms against the bacteria in its surrounding environment.
Bacteria thrive in five conditions: They need a source of protein to eat. There has to be enough moisture. The temperature must nary be too hot, nor too cold. The level of acidity should be none to moderate. Last but not least, there ought to be sufficient time for the bacteria to replicate and grow in population.
By this definition, cooked venison provides favorable conditions for bacterial growth. Meat is inherently rich in protein, contains 60% moisture when cooked, and, although it is on the acidic side, it isn’t overly acidic. Add temperature and time to the mix, and there’s your recipe for spoilage and adulteration.
Bacteria—both the kinds that cause spoilage and illness—thrive at room temperature. Their activity is slowed down in the fridge, and is effectively put on halt in the freezer. (That’s why frozen food stays safe to eat indefinitely, even if it dries out and loses its best qualities over time.)
Keeping Cooked Venison Fresh and Safe to Eat
Never leave cooked venison out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, the USDA prescribes. On sultry summer days, when the outside temperature is 90°F (32°C) of higher, that time is reduced to 1 hour.
Bacteria thrive in the 40-140°F (4-60°C) temperature range, which most of us refer to as “room temperature,” and roughly double in population in as little as 20 minutes. Left to sit out, cooked venison gets oversaturated by bacteria and, within 1-2 hours, is no longer safe to eat.
Leftover cooked venison should be cooled quickly, transferred to airtight food storage containers, and then refrigerated, where it will keep for 3-4 days. The sooner you eat those leftovers up, the fresher and safer they will be.
Frozen, leftover cooked venison stays safe to eat indefinitely. However, it only keeps its best aroma, flavor, and texture for up to 1 year. Afterwards, the meat dries out and is no longer as appetizing as it once was.
|Storage Method||Shelf Life|
|Out on the counter (at room temperature)||1-2 hours|
|In the fridge (at or below 40°F/4°C)||3-4 days|
|In the freezer (at or below -18°F/0°C)||Indefinitely, but keeps best quality for up to 1 year|
Does Reheating Old Venison Make It Safe to Eat?
Many home cooks mistakenly think that reheating cooked meat makes it once again safe to eat. Alas, this is simply not true—reheating meat that’s sat in the fridge or on the counter for too long won’t make it any safer.
The heat will kill most of the pathogenic bacteria, but it won’t eliminate the toxins that they left behind. Some bacteria form spores that protect them from and allows them to survive in adverse conditions, including high heat.
Always err on the side of caution when it comes to the food you send to the table. At best, eating dated food can give you and the family a nasty stomach ache. At worst, and I don’t wish this on anyone, it can give someone a case of food poisoning so bad, they need an emergency visit to the doctor.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million Americans contract food-borne illness every year. 128,000 of them are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
To stay safe, play it safe.