Ground beef is one of the most versatile ingredients out there—and it’s also one of the most perishable. Eating improperly stored ground beef can make you dangerously sick. Here’s what you need to know to keep you and your family safe:
How Long Does Ground Beef Last?
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Probably not as long as you think. According to the USDA, raw ground beef should really only stay in your fridge for one to two days (yikes).
If you want to keep it longer, though, you can always store it in your freezer. It can stay there for around four months.
How Do You Know If Ground Beef Is Bad?
Use your senses to tell if your raw ground beef is past its prime:
- Look for discoloration or mold. Good ground beef should be bright red and not brown. Obviously, if it has mold, it should go directly into the trash. Also take a look at the expiration date—if it’s USDA-approved beef (it should be), the expiration and sell-by dates should be clearly marked.
- Smell your ground beef. If it has a rancid, tangy scent, that’s a sign it’s past its expiration date.
- When you touch it, it should feel cool, smooth, and a little moist. Spoiled ground beef can feel sticky or slimy. (But, for the love of God, wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw meat).
Still unsure? When in doubt, throw it out.
Spoiled ground beef, even if it’s cooked all the way through, is never safe to eat. It may contain harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. If you’ve eaten spoiled meat, you may experience fever, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. These symptoms are especially dangerous for the very young, the very old, and people with weakened immune systems.
Related: How to Make the Most of Your Ground Beef
How to Store Ground Beef
Put your ground beef in the refrigerator as soon as you get home from the store. Raw meat shouldn’t be left at room temperature for longer than is absolutely necessary. In fact, it’s best to pick up ground beef toward the end of your shopping trip and head directly home after you’ve made your purchases. If you don’t live close to the grocery store, you may want to bring a cooler or thermal bag to hold perishables on your drive home.
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Keep ground beef in the coldest part of your 40° or below fridge (typically, this is toward the back in the main compartment) for one to two days. If possible, store it on the lowest shelf to prevent its juices from leaking onto other foods.
Avoid storing it in the door, as the temperature in this area fluctuates more.
What About Cooked Ground Beef?
Refrigerate ground beef—including hamburgers—within two hours of cooking.
Store cooked ground beef in a shallow, airtight container in the fridge for three to four days.
Related: We Tried Every Instant Read Thermometer We Could Find and This Was Our Favorite
How to Freeze Ground Beef
To freeze ground beef, simply wrap it tightly in heavy duty plastic wrap, foil, or freezer-safe zip-top bags (these reusable freezer bags have more than 500 5-star reviews on Amazon).
You can save storage by flattening the meat with a rolling pin after it’s been sealed in a bag, just make sure no juices leak out onto your counter or rolling pin.
Write the date on the packages and consume within four months. The frozen meat will remain safe beyond that time, but it will lose quality.
Tip: Freeze beef in the portions you plan to cook with later. This way, you won’t have to thaw and refreeze the same meat multiple times.
How to Thaw Ground Beef
By far, the best and safest way to thaw frozen ground beef is in the refrigerator. Don’t even think about letting it sit at room temperature.
Simply move it from the freezer to the fridge the night before you plan to cook it.
If you need it thawed more quickly, according to the USDA, you can use the defrost setting on your microwave or put the meat in a water-tight plastic bag and submerge in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes.
Ground Beef Recipes
Looking for ways to use all that properly stored ground beef? We’ve got you covered:
- 35+ Fabulous Ground Beef Recipes
- 10+ Easy Ground Beef Recipes With Few Ingredients
- 10+ Super Simple Ground Beef Casseroles
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