The True Purpose Of That Soggy 'Diaper' Under Grocery Store Meat

When you open up a fresh package of meat from the grocery store butcher section, you probably don't think twice about that little pad that sits beneath it in the packaging. Unless, of course, you accidentally toss it into your skillet — which is something I've done once or twice before. It's easy to assume that meat diaper is there to soak up any remaining blood from whichever meat you've chosen to cook dinner with that day, but if you inspect it more closely, you'll probably have noticed that it's never stained a bright red. Pink, perhaps, but not quite like the shade of blood. (The juice is not, in fact, blood but myoglobin, a protein.)

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So, what is that absorbent pad beneath your store-bought meat actually for? It turns out it's not just to draw any soggy drippings away from your meat, but also to keep you safe from some nasty microorganisms that could potentially ruin your day. After all, one of the things you want to do in the kitchen, aside from making a delicious dinner, is avoid getting everyone in your household sick.

What that absorbent pad is really for

Those pads can absorb a whole lot of the liquid that seeps from your meat, which is where bacteria can hang out and proliferate. Bacteria's presence in food is a natural occurrence, but the liquid from your meat can easily splash on food preparation surfaces without you noticing. That's where the risk of cross-contamination comes in, so it's best to control the fluid before it becomes a problem.

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Also, the term "meat diaper" is a humorous one people have adopted over the years, since the thing can hold liquid so effectively, but often you'll hear it referred to by other names. The USDA calls it an "absorbent pad," which admittedly isn't nearly as entertaining. But health and safety concerns aren't exactly a laughing matter to them, especially when vulnerable populations (and even healthy ones) can get sick from cross-contaminated dishes.

The pads are usually made of one of two materials that are capable of soaking up a lot of moisture, which are silica gel, a porous version of sand, and cellulose, which is a plant fiber. The material used is coated in a perforated plastic wrapping that lets meat juices in but not the absorbent material out, and the pads are created without any known harmful substances that could potentially leach into your food.

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What happens if you've accidentally tossed the absorbent pad into the skillet?

If, by chance, you've accidentally tossed the absorbent pad into the pan along with the meat, don't fret. As long as you fish the thing out before it has a chance to melt or break apart, you're fine. Ideally, you'd catch a mishap like this fairly quickly, since the meat diaper is hard to miss, but as long as the bacteria is contained in the pad and not somehow in your cooking environment, you'll be okay. Plus, as long as you're cooking the meat to proper temperatures, the bacteria in it should be killed during the cooking process, so your dinner is under no additional risk of contamination if you accidentally threw the pad in.

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So, for the squeamish, no, that meat diaper isn't soaking up blood. It keeps all the meat's juices at bay so you don't get sick, it's fine if you accidentally toss it in your pan (just fish it out quickly!), and jeez, it's doing way more heavy lifting than you'd think.

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