Ground beef is a tasty, versatile meat that can be cooked in so many delicious yet different ways. No matter if you're whipping up a burrito casserole for dinner or making burgers for a summer full of cookouts, it's essential that you learn how to store ground beef correctly.
Doing so will keep harmful bacteria away and ensure your meals are of the best quality—and have the best flavor—possible.
Store fresh ground beef in the refrigerator (1-2 days) or freezer (up to 4 months.) Feel free to keep it in the original store packaging or portion it into separate plastic bags. If you transfer it to another bag, be sure to make a note of the sell-by date before discarding the original wrapping.
Raw ground beef lasts for 1-2 days in the refrigerator. However, cooked ground beef leftovers last in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Proper storage is key if you want the meat to last longer. Place ground beef in the coldest part—generally toward the back of the fridge's bottom shelf. Never place meat in the door since the temperature fluctuates when you open and close it.
A "best before" date is different than an expiration date. Expiration or "use by" dates refer to safety—consuming past this date may result in food poisoning. On the other hand, the "best before" date refers to quality. Eating food products past this date might not result in sickness, but they won't taste as good.
To prevent bacterial growth, getting your ground meat home as soon as possible is important. Keep the air conditioning on if it's a hot day, and don't make any pit stops. If you have a long drive home, the safest way to ensure the beef stays out of the "danger zone" is to place it (and a few other cold items) in an insulated bag.
Its short shelf life is due, in part, to the increased surface area caused by the meat grinder—all the little bumps and waves encourage bacteria growth at a more rapid pace than on a flat piece of uncut meat (like a steak or chicken breast.)
Signs of spoilage include a slimy texture, an off-putting, Ammonia-like smell, and a grayish-brown color. However, look to the color last, since it isn't always as accurate. Bad ground beef will have a sour smell and a definite change in texture.
Always wash your hands after handling meat, and don't touch anything (like the faucet or fridge door handle.) If the plastic-wrapped package from the grocery store leaks, throw it away and store the beef in a plastic bag or on a tray covered with plastic wrap. It's also important to separate raw meat from cooked foods in the fridge to prevent any chance of cross-contamination.
Yes! According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, you can safely refreeze thawed, uncooked ground beef as long as all food safety precautions were taken during the original thawing and freezing. However, you cannot refreeze old ground beef as a way to "revive" or "reset" its shelf life.
Let the cooked ground beef cool to room temperature first. Then, portion it into an airtight container and either refrigerate or freeze. It'll last for 3-4 days in the fridge or about three months in the freezer.
Best way to freeze ground beef
Since refrigerated ground beef only lasts a few days, many home cooks like to transfer some of the fresh meat to the freezer as soon as they get it home. This is a great way to preserve the beef's quality and keep your family safe.
Here's how to do it:
- Keep the ground beef in the original packaging if you're not worried about portioning it—for instance, if you plan to thaw/cook it all at once.
- Wrap the package of beef in plastic wrap or heavy-duty aluminum foil for an extra layer of protection.
- Alternatively, use a large, heavy-duty freezer bag or portion the beef into smaller bags. (This way, you only thaw what you need at one time. Plus, bags flatten nicely so they're easier to thaw and store.)
- If using Ziploac bags, squeeze out as much air as you can—this prevents freezer burn. You can also use a vacuum sealer.
- Use a permanent marker to label the package with the date of purchase and type of meat. After all, you may prefer different fat blends (80/20 or 90/10) for different recipes, but all frozen ground beef looks the same!
- Store the ground meat in the freezer. Some people like to buy a plastic container to keep in the freezer to organize the frozen meats, but that's up to you!
Best way to thaw ground beef
We've all experienced the fright of preparing to cook dinner after a long day, only to find the package of ground beef still nestled away in the chilly freezer.
Whether you have days to prep or minutes, here are some ways to thaw ground beef:
- The best way to thaw ground beef is in the fridge. Place frozen beef in the refrigerator about 12-24 hours before you plan to cook it.
- However, if you need to speed up the process, submerge the package of ground beef in cold water. Change the water every few minutes, adding cool water—never hot. The meat will thaw in about a half hour.
- Some people like to use the defrost setting on the microwave—it works okay. If you choose this option, be sure to follow your microwave's directions carefully, and use a dish with tall sides, like a shallow bowl. This will prevent any beef juices from running off and contaminating the inside of your microwave.
Following these tips and learning how to properly store ground beef will give you the best results possible—a delicious dish without anxiety about sickness or stomach cramps.
We love cooking ground beef for its savory flavor, heartiness, and overall versatility. Plus, it only takes a few minutes to brown, so you can have a satisfying dinner ready in no time.
Our favorite ground beef recipes:
- With zingy flavors and hearty taco meat, Ground Beef Taco Dip is a fun appetizer—perfect for game day, grad parties, movie night, and more!
- Beef Stroganoff with Mushroom Soup is a hearty, satisfying comfort food dish. It tastes classic, but comes together super quickly!
- Stuffed Bell Peppers - this classic dish is so flavorful. It will be everyone's favorite!
- Cheesy and filling Hamburger Potato Casserole is an easy, make-ahead meal that you (and the family!) will crave.
- The Lazy Lasagna Casserole has all the flavor with half the work of the regular dish!
- The Rigatoni Bolognese Recipe is a terrific one-pot meal.