How to Compost Cooked Foods, Meats, and Dairy

Scavenger-proof containers make it easier to compost cooked foods.

Most general composting guidelines recommend against composting cooked foods. This may seem a little confusing – if something rots, it should be able to be composted, right? And it’s true, there are people out there composting anything and everything, from cooked foods to animal carcasses to “humanure.”

However, some items – including cooked foods – shouldn’t be composted unless you’re quite experienced. Cooked scraps, plate scrapings, meats, fats, and dairy present challenges that many “casual composters” won’t be prepared to handle, since these foods can:

  • Smell Bad: Meats, fats, and dairy in particular can give off putrid odors as they break down. Plant scraps, on the other hand, tend not to cause as much of a stink.
  • Attract Pests: Rats, bees, biting flies, bears, and other pesky scavengers are attracted to the smell, which can lead to a whole new set of problems!
  • Turn to Mush: Cooked foods easily putrefy and turn mushy and gross, which is not only unpleasant but interferes with proper aeration of the pile.
  • Go Anaerobic: Decomposing meats can produce anaerobic bacteria, which is the archenemy of a normal, aerobic compost pile. These bacteria can interfere with the composting process and cause problems with odors and acidity.
  • Need High Heat: In order to kill harmful bacteria and break down proteins and fats, your compost pile needs to heat up properly, which requires attention and maintenance.

If you’re in the habit of simply tossing stuff into a compost pile to see what happens, you’re better off avoiding cooked foods. However, if you’re an experienced composter, go ahead and give it a try – if it’s made of (or comes from) living things, it’s possible to compost it if you keep the following in mind.

How to Compost Cooked Foods

  • Cooked Vegetables: The “no cooked foods” rule is a general guideline because many of us add fat, butter, or meat products to our cooked veggies. Pure steamed veggies – with no oils or sauces – should compost just fine, especially if they’re well mixed into the pile. Don’t forget the cooking liquid, too!
  • Cooked Starches and Grains: If you’re composting cooked veggies with no problem, consider adding cooked rice, pasta, and bread to the pile. Some gardeners believe that these foods attract scavengers more readily than their uncooked counterparts, but every yard is different.
  • Meats, Fats, Oils, and Dairy: If you are successfully composting other cooked foods in a hot, well-aerated compost pile, you’re ready to give meat a try! Be sure to pre-cook raw meat scraps to kill salmonella and other dangerous bacteria. For best results, chop or puree meat scraps to help them mix in and break down.

Tips for Successful Composting

Composting cooked foods requires that you be a little more attentive to your compost pile. To keep it scavenger-free and to make sure it’s hot enough to kill disease pathogens, follow these tips:

  • Keep It Hot: Use a thermometer to make sure your pile reaches at least 140°-160° F for a week or more. Turn your compost regularly to keep the temperature up.
  • Bury It: Cover cooked foods with a few shovelfuls of dirt, leaves, or sawdust in your compost pile to keep smells down and discourage pests.
  • Enclose It: If scavengers are a problem, use a critter-proof enclosed system such as a tumbling composter or wormery.
  • Go Anaerobic: Anaerobic fermenting systems, such as Bokashi bins, use special bacteria in an airtight container. These types of composting systems can quickly and effectively break down meat and dairy scraps, although the resulting compost is more acidic than regular (aerobic) compost.

Further Information


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16 Comments on “How to Compost Cooked Foods, Meats, and Dairy”

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  • Gb Says:
    August 19th, 2018 at 6:10 am

    I need a bin which need no electricity but can convert spoiled cooked food like cereals dals , vegetables ,bread, chpatis, in to manure without smell

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    July 7th, 2018 at 7:18 pm

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  • Naomi Says:
    July 5th, 2018 at 8:59 pm

    Thank you so much for this very helpful and informative guide to compost cooks meats, dairy, and fats. I’ve been looking for something like this.

  • Nicki Says:
    January 22nd, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    I’ve been composting all of my food waste (including meat, bones, dairy, cooked food etc) for a few years now in my bokashi composter. And I love it! So simple, no odors and does not attract pests. Plus it makes amazing compost 🙂

  • Mae Says:
    July 3rd, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    Im sorry. I dont mean to offend the writers of this or any article against people composting dairy, meat, etc… but I just want to point one thing out: humans have been “composting” for years and years. Just because we are guided in 2017 not to compost meat “unless you are experienced” does not mean this is correct. We must think rationally for ourselves. Can you stand the smell? Can you purchase a container that withholds smells? Can you experience mistakes until you get it right? Do you want to take chances attracting pests or animals? Will you irritate your neighbors if you live on a small plot? These are things to consider, not following opinion as fact. I compost everything (food)…because it is possible. Simple.

  • Candy man Says:
    February 14th, 2017 at 8:58 am

    I have an organic waste converter, I am from India, I can heat waste up to 60 C in the machine and after took out from machine waste heat up to 70-75 C in one week. so can I compost meat and cooked vegetable, rice, etc. share your knowledge please.

  • Alex Says:
    November 3rd, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    I have composted cooked meat, cheese, eggs, vegetables, starches, etc. with success. I use a tube with a lid. I drilled several holes on all the sides. It does take a longer than just composting grass and leaves. If you’re worried about salmonella you can burry the compost and plant a tomato plant above it.

  • Ian Says:
    June 27th, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    I have a buried 60 gallon barrel with holes drilled in the sides and bottom. I have the top few inches surrounded by firepit bricks and a 1/4″ thick steel lid so pests are not a problem. I throw literally everything from the kitchen into it. It started to thaw after winter and smells haven’t been a problem yet. I am not wanting to harvest compost just get rid if kitchen waste.

    I also have an earthmachine for lawn clippings and shredded newspaper.

    In the fall I plan on spreading the contents of both bins on the garden and then rototilling to get rid of the smell and to bury the waste so it can “finish” underground over winter.

    I did the same thing last year and this year we have a very nice garden with no I’ll effects from the meat.

    With a proper bin pests are not a problem. The only issue is the smell when you empty the bin. You have to rototill immediately after emptying it to get rid of the smell otherwise you will have unhappy neighbours.

  • Jai Khosla Says:
    August 25th, 2015 at 7:03 am

    I compost everything edible except meats, poultry, bones. I do compost egg shells and coffee filters and tea bags. I also compost vegetarian foods that have been cooked. However, I grind up everything daily in a blender with water and then throw it into the compost pile and turn the pile. No smells so far. Because the food is well mixed in with the previous compost no varmints. Am I doing the right thing?

  • Ian Says:
    March 31st, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    I have a buried 60 gallon barrel with holes drilled in the sides and bottom. I have the top few inches surrounded by firepit bricks and a 1/4″ thick steel lid so pests are not a problem. I throw literally everything from the kitchen into it. It started to thaw after winter and smells haven’t been a problem yet. I am not wanting to harvest compost just get rid if kitchen waste.

  • Blair Carmichael Says:
    March 31st, 2015 at 11:11 am

    I put galvanized wire over the bed of our herb garden to keep our cats out. The herbs grow up between the openings and the cats don’t dig and bury surprises in it anymore.

  • Asdas Says:
    November 18th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    To: “Truth Be Told Now”

    Butter and fats are not a problem when they do not reach more than 5% of your compost composition I heard. If your compost is closed then it should not attract vermin as well.

    I heard that dog poop as well as poop from other carnivorous pets (like cats), contain bacteria which is dangerous to humans. I would therefore not advice to build it in your compost heap that you will work with and probably use in order to fertilize or plant your vegetables.

  • Truth Be Told NOW Says:
    March 13th, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    Also, We have dogs and there old poop spot is perfect for low light gardening.

    Can I use that spot without a danger? Is dog poop a danger for the garden area? If so, how long before that ground is safe again?

  • Truth Be Told NOW Says:
    March 13th, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    My wife and I are having a debate over whether or not we can compost the leftover veggies that we cooked in butter. Can anyone clarify what is best for new composters?

  • Heather Clapp Says:
    January 15th, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    I deal with my cooked meat another way-Black soldier flies! Their gigantic trilobitesque larvae eat whatever I give them in under 24 hours. I wish I had chickens so they could feast on them.

  • peter coppola Says:
    July 16th, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Very good article. I am always amazed by students who tell me that I should not be composting cooked food. They don’t know why; just something they read and I should not tell people it is okay.

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How to Compost Cooked Foods, Meats, and Dairy