Why is ground beef so popular? Because it is a great staple ingredient for most kinds of weekday meals and weekend barbecue burgers.
Ground beef is also budget-friendly and is a quick way to have your whole family consume vital nutrients like proteins, minerals, and vitamins. It is also a rich source of iron. So besides improving muscle growth and exercise performance, it cuts the risk of developing anemia.
As a chief ingredient in most meals every day, most people buy ground beef in bulk and store it in the refrigerator. But how long does ground beef last in the fridge? Read along to learn how long ground beef lasts and how to handle it safely.
How Long Does Raw Ground Beef Last without Refrigeration
You’ve probably heard that chicken and fish are superior to beef. Although beef has a higher calorie content than chicken, this should not be a reason for you to ditch beef entirely.
Beef has a higher iron content than chicken or fish. It also contains zinc and various minerals, and vitamins that are vital for proper growth and nourishment.
However, like other forms of meat, ground beef is highly perishable. It would be best if you never let it stay at room temperature for more than 2 hours. For maximum freshness, refrigerate ground beef as soon as you buy it.
How long does ground beef last in the fridge?
The recommended time that you can store ground beef in the refrigerator is two days. However, there are a few extra measures you can take to increase the shelf life of your ground beef.
The quality of your ground beef will determine whether it is possible to extend its shelf life. So it’s best to purchase high-quality meat that has been tested for the presence of any food-borne disease-causing bacteria.
Like other foods of animal origin, ground beef contains bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella. Although some people prefer grinding beef at home over getting it from a retail store, this is not a safer option. The safest place to get ground beef is a USDA-inspected plant.
You can get trimmed beef tested for bacteria at a USDA -inspected plant and have it ground to your preferred size; small, medium, or large. When you grind your primal cuts or have them ground at the retail store, some bacteria on the beef go undetected.
Grinding allows the bacteria on the surface of the meat to mix throughout the meat. If this happens, you may end up consuming contaminated beef that could cause severe food poisoning. The USDA-inspected plants have Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures, and this assures you that the beef is appropriately handled and chilled before it is sold.
Once you get your quality ground beef, please pay attention to how you keep it in the refrigerator.
Keep the ground beef in its original wrapping at the back of the bottom shelf of the fridge. The bottom shelf is the coldest section of your fridge. It’s also the best place to store meat because there are few chances of contamination other stored foodstuffs with juice drippings from the meat.
Here are a few tips on how to extend the shelf life of your ground beef:
- Buy meat that has been inspected and tested for bacteria because it will have an extended shelf-life.
- Store the ground beef properly in the refrigerator. If you have already opened the ground beef, store it in an airtight plastic container on the fridge’s bottom shelf.
- Avoid leaving raw meat at room temperature for more than two hours. Bacteria proliferate in warm temperatures.
- If you grind the beef yourself, don’t leave it in the fridge for longer than one day. To continue using raw ground meat, store it in the freezer and then defrost it before cooking it.
How long does ground beef last in the freezer?
Freezing your ground beef is the only sure way of increasing its shelf life.
The low temperature in the freezer inactivates any bacteria present in the meat enabling the ground beef to stay fresh for three to four months.
How to Freeze Ground Beef
When freezing ground beef, it is always advisable to leave it wrapped in its original packaging. It would be best if you then overwrapped it with heavy-duty aluminum foil. If you don’t have heavy-duty aluminum foil, you could also wrap it with freezer paper or plastic wrap.
These wrappings will prevent freezer burn. If you have already opened the ground beef, you could wrap it with a freezer-safe plastic bag with a sticker label showing the expected expiry date.
Once you are ready to cook it, thaw it thoroughly by submerging it in a large bowl of ice-cold water. Use a heavy lid to keep it submerged in case part of it floats above the water.
You should never refreeze thawed ground beef. Cook it as soon as it’s thawed.
How long does cooked ground beef lasts
You’ve probably heard people say that cooked meat lasts longer. But this is a very dangerous myth.
Although cooked meat lasts longer than raw meat, it can only last up to four days in the refrigerator and three months in the freezer.
When cooking meat, cook it thoroughly. Cooking meat thoroughly destroys most bacteria in the meat, if not all. That said, you should never cook ground beef partially.
Making the rookie mistake of partially cooking meat allows bacteria to survive and multiply up to a point where no heat destroys all the bacteria in the meat.
Ways to Tell If Ground Beef Is Bad
Check the color
One of the ways you could tell whether your ground beef is bad is if it has changed color. Various factors could cause your ground beef to change color. Some of them include exposure to light, a rise in temperature, oxygen, and microbial growth.
Fresh, ground beef has a high level of oxymyoglobin. This pigment forms when the protein called myoglobin reacts with oxygen. The outer part of the ground beef is brighter than the interior because it has more exposure to oxygen. However, that doesn’t mean that the meat is spoilt.
Nonetheless, when the whole beef turns brown or greyish, it’s an indication that it’s beginning to rot, and you should throw it right away to avoid contamination.
When the color of your ground beef begins to turn from red to green, grey, or blue, it’s a sign that mold has already started forming on it, and you should toss it to the bins right away too.
Inspect the texture
You can also check whether your meat has gone bad by feeling its texture through a touch test. Fresh ground meat has a firm consistency, which quickly breaks apart when squeezed.
When your beef has a slimy or sticky texture, whether it’s raw or cooked, it is likely contaminated with bacteria and should be discarded right away.
You should thoroughly clean your hands with soap and water after feeding meat to prevent the transfer of bacteria from your hands to other surfaces.
Perform a smell test
The fastest and easiest way of telling whether food is spoilt is by smelling it. Whether your ground beef is raw or cooked, you can quickly know that it’s going bad by the rotting smell emanating from it.
While the scent of fresh beef is hard to discern, rotting ground beef has a distinct tangy putrid smell which tells you that the meat is no longer safe for consumption.
Bacteria such as Pseudomonas spp. and Lactobacillus spp. change the smell of meat and affect its flavor. So, if you eat a burger with a weird taste, you should immediately spit it out because it could lead to food poisoning and other food-borne diseases.
Check the expiration date.
Another quick way of determining whether your ground beef is safe for consumption is by checking the expiry date. While the sell-by date informs the retailer how long the product should be displayed on the shelves for sale, the best-before date tells the consumer when the product is no longer safe for consumption.
Raw ground beef should be sold while it’s still fresh because it can only stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Buying ground beef on a date close to the best-before date may be safe for immediate use, but the taste and quality may not be significant. So it’s best to buy fresh ground beef.
Moreover, you should never eat expired ground beef unless you have frozen it. Be careful not to let it stay in the freezer for longer than three months if it’s frozen and four months if it is raw.
What kind of bacteria can be in ground beef? Are they dangerous?
Bacteria are everywhere. All food contains some bacteria, whether good or bad.
Meat, dairy, and other foods of animal origin contain pathogenic bacteria like Shiga-toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STECs), Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter jejuni, and Staphylococcus aureus, which cause food-borne diseases.
The worst thing about these bacteria is that they cannot be seen under the naked eye or be smelt. So when they are present on the surface of the meat when it’s ground, they get mixed throughout the meat and multiply rapidly.
These bacteria also multiply rapidly when the meat is exposed to a temperature between 40 and 140 °F (4.4 and 60 °C)- the danger zone.
To slow down the growth of bacteria in the ground beef, keep it in the refrigerator at 40 °F (4.4 °C) and below and cook it within two days. Otherwise, throw it in the ins because it will be unsafe for consumption.
You can also destroy bacteria on the ground beef by cooking it at a minimum internal temperature of 160 °F (71.1 °C).
Ground beef, like other types of food, also has spoilage bacteria. These bacteria diminish the quality of the food by making it develop a foul odor and taste.
They also make the beef sticky on the outside. Although these bacteria are generally not harmful, once your beef begins to change its color, texture, and smell, you should throw it right away.
It would be best if you never let ground beef stay at room temperature for longer than two hours. Once you refrigerate the ground beef, cook it within two days or freeze it for up to four months.
If you have leftover ground beef that was previously refrigerated, you should discard it or freeze it for up to three months. Never cook your ground beef partially because it encourages more bacteria.
Always get your ground beef from a USDA inspected plant as the meat is inspected and tested before it is sold.