The Purpose Behind The Absorbent Padding Found In Meat Packaging

From soda can tabs to the tiny tables that hold up our pizza boxes, the world is filled with little technologies that make our lives easier. Take, for example, the humble packaging used to hold meat at the grocery store. It may appear to just be a styrofoam shell and plastic wrap, but if you look closer, you'll notice another vital component. Under the ground beef or chicken breast lies a thin, absorbent pad that actually serves a few key functions when it comes to food safety.

The aim of this thin pad, which for better or worse is also known as a meat diaper, is to keep the meat safe. When raw meat sits around, it can expel liquid which may appear red, but this is natural and not a cause for concern. What is concerning is that the liquid can be filled with dangerous bacteria. If the meat stays in this liquid for too long, it can create more bacteria, so the meat diaper absorbs the liquid to keep everything fresh for longer.

The pad absorbs bacteria-laden liquid to keep you safe

This absorbent pad also stops the liquid from getting onto your counters once the package is opened, preventing cross-contamination. It takes only one drop of bacteria-filled liquid to potentially get you sick, so preventing spills onto your hands or food items is a crucial part of the absorbent pad's job.

You should remove the meat diaper from your raw meat or poultry before cooking it, but if you forget, it's not necessarily game over. According to the USDA, if you accidentally cook the absorbent pad and it remains "unaltered," as in not melted or otherwise damaged, the meat should not be dangerous to eat. However, if there is any change to the pad's appearance, it's best to throw the cooked meat out. You should also refrain from reusing the absorbent pad for other cuts of meat or anything else, as this can cause cross-contamination.

Meat packaging is specially designed to keep everything as sanitary as possible, so it's important to take note if anything seems off, like if the plastic is damaged or the packaging is bloated. Food safety is no laughing matter, so the next time you serve up steak, burgers, fried chicken, or any other meaty main, thank the meat diaper for keeping everything clean.