What's The Deal With The Absorbent Pad In Meat And Fish Packages?

Have you ever wondered what that absorbent pad under your meat is for? Maybe you've struggled to extricate it from a pack of frozen chicken you forgot to defrost, or maybe you've had to fish it out of a pan while you're in the middle of making bolognese sauce or white chicken chili. While sometimes a nuisance, that absorbent pad is actually there for a really good reason: it absorbs naturally occurring juices that can contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella or E. Coli.


The bacteria found in raw meat is safe to consume once cooked to a proper internal temperature, but it can cause foodborne illness if consumed raw. The absorbent pads in your meat packages help prevent cross-contamination while you're cooking by reducing the chance these juices will drip onto other food or your cooking surface. The absorbent pad also helps raw meat appear more appealing while you're shopping in the grocery store.

Absorbent pads help keep your food safe

All raw meat including red meat, poultry, and fish secretes liquid while it sits on store shelves and in your refrigerator. In the case of red meat, the red liquid that looks like blood isn't blood at all. It's actually a red protein in muscle tissue called myoglobin, and there is more of it in red meat than in other meats, which is where red meat gets its name.


The absorbent pad at the bottom of your package of meat is there to soak up this liquid. When raw, this liquid can contain dangerous bacteria such as E. coli, Campylobacter, and Salmonella. By soaking up the liquid, the pad helps prevent accidental spills and drips that could contain harmful bacteria and lead to food poisoning. The pad also keeps your food safe by preventing the meat from sitting in a pool of its own juice, which over time could cause even more bacteria to grow. According to a 2021 study in the scientific journal "Foods," absorbing the liquid from meat via these absorbent pads may also improve customer satisfaction and prevent food waste.

How do absorbent meat pads work?

Meat pads are typically made of an absorbent material stuffed between layers of perforated plastic. According to MyRecipes, most manufacturers use either silica gel, which is purified sand, or cellulose, which is purified plant fibers, as the absorbent material. As the liquid comes out of the meat while it's sitting on the shelf, it seeps through the perforated plastic and is absorbed by either the silica gel or the cellulose. This keeps the liquid away from the meat, and it makes it easier for you to dispose of it without dripping the liquid onto your countertops or other cooking surfaces once you open the package.


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration or FDA oversees all food packaging materials, including the pads in meat packages.  As such, these absorbent pads are safe when used properly, but, if you accidentally cook the absorbent pad with your meat, your food may no longer be safe to eat. If the pad is altered or melted in any way, you'll need to throw your food away. So next time you're getting ready to grill or make a big pot of stew, don't forget to check for that absorbent pad, and toss it (and the bacteria-laded juices) in the trash.