How Long Does Ground Beef Last In The Fridge?

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Find out how long does ground beef last in the fridge and the freezer, how to tell if ground beef has gone bad, and top tips to store it for longer shelf life.

How Long Does Ground Beef Last In The Fridge?
How Long Does Ground Beef Last In The Fridge

Ground beef is one of the most common ingredients used for cooking. It is relatively inexpensive and is an easy way to add protein to a meal. 

However, ground beef can be a source of concern as it is also one of the most perishable items. It can only be stored for a limited time in the refrigerator, which means that it will begin to spoil quickly if not used.

In this post, we will find out how long ground beef lasts in the fridge and the correct methods of handling and storing it to ensure maximum food safety. 

How Long Does Ground Beef Last In The Fridge?

How Long Does Ground Beef Last In The Fridge?
How Long Does Ground Beef Last In The Fridge table

Uncooked or raw ground beef lasts in the fridge for one or two days. 

Store ground beef in its original container on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, toward the back.

If you want the ground beef to last longer, store it in the freezer and it will stay good for three to four months. 

Its shelf life will also depend on the quality of the meat. Look for high-quality ground beef to ensure that it lasts longer.

Although most ground beef is not graded in the USA, you can look for those retailers who maintain strict standards and source ground beef from farmers who have raised cattle as per the best practices.  

Also, choose ground beef with USDA certification. Although this does not mean that the beef is free from pathogenic bacteria or spoilage bacteria, you can rest assured that the minimum safety standards were employed during the meat processing. 

In USDA-inspected plants, the methods of steam pasteurization, water washes, antimicrobials, steam vacuuming, and organic acid washes are used to make the ground beef free from pathogens so that there is no food poisoning

Pathogenic and Spoilage Bacteria In Ground Beef

Pathogenic bacteria present in raw ground meat can lead to food poisoning. The chances of their presence increase when there are spoilage bacteria present in the meat.

Food deteriorates due to spoilage bacteria – microscopic organisms that cannot be seen without a microscope. These single-celled germs give off disagreeable tastes, aromas, and textures and can make meat smell terrible and turn fruits and vegetables sticky or mushy.

What Makes Ground Beef Spoil Faster Than Other Beef Cuts?

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What Makes Ground Beef Spoil Faster Than Other Beef Cuts 1

Butchered animals go through a number of processing steps before they are packed and dispatched to a store. 

Although it is exposed to many different bacteria and germs throughout this procedure, these only affect the meat’s surface.

Steaks and other larger cuts have relatively small surfaces, and while cooking, all of these surfaces are exposed to heat, killing the germs. This ensures that the germs don’t reach inside the meat. That’s why you can have your steak rare but never undercooked ground beef.

On the other hand, the surface area of ground beef is much larger. During the grinding stage, the beef is exposed to more germs, and what’s more, these germs get mixed into the ground beef. 

That’s why when compared to other forms of meat, ground beef typically has the highest level of bacteria. It is significantly more likely to spoil as a result.

How Long Does Cooked Ground Beef Last In The Fridge?

In the refrigerator, cooked ground beef can be stored for three to four days

Additionally, it can be frozen and kept fresh for up to four months if you have room in your freezer.

😀 Fun Fact: The characteristics of cooked ground beef differ greatly from those of raw ground beef. While raw ground beef has a high risk of contamination, cooked ground beef has a much lower risk of contamination if cooked properly.

Why Does Ground Beef Need To Cook In A Higher Temperature?

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Why Does Ground Beef Need To Cook In A Higher Temperature

You need to make sure that ground beef reaches a temperature of 160°F (71°C ) before you eat it. 

As mentioned earlier, the surface area of ground beef is larger and bacteria get easily mixed up in it in the process of grinding. 

Until and unless it’s cooked to reach a temperature of 160°F, bacteria like E.Coli and salmonella will not be eliminated, posing a health risk for consumers. 

In other beef cuts, for example, steaks, the surface area is much smaller and you need to cook it until it reaches 140°F (60°C) to ensure it’s free from all harmful bacteria. 

Always check the temperature of your ground beef with a meat thermometer before you eat it. You can also use the meat thermometer to check the temperature of other beef cuts as well like steaks or briskets if you’re making corned beef.

Tips To Handle Ground Beef When Shopping

  1. Choose a frozen ground beef package that is not torn or scratched.
  2. Make sure the package feels cold.
  3. Ask for the package to be placed in a plastic bag to prevent juices from contaminating other food products in the cart. 
  4. Shop last for the ground beef. 
  5. After purchasing ground beef, go home directly to avoid the ground beef from sitting out for too long. 

How To Store Ground Beef 

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How To Store Ground Beef

Storing ground beef is easy if you pay attention to the type of wrapper you are using, the temperature at which you’re storing it, and marking the date when you put it in the freezer.


Ground beef should be put away in the refrigerator or freezer and in the original packaging as soon as you bring it home. 

This will slow down the growth of bacteria and help to keep the meat fresh. 

If you’re storing it in the refrigerator, make sure the temperature is below 40°F (4.4°C). 

You should use the ground beef in the fridge within a day or two. 

However, if you want to make it last longer, freeze ground beef. 


Before you put it away in the freezer, wrap the package in plastic wrap, plastic bag, foil, or freezer paper to prevent freezer burn as that would affect the taste and texture of the meat. 

To avoid cross-contamination, keep the pack away from other food products in the freezer.


Mark the date on which you are putting it in the freezer so that you can consume it within four months. 

Although the frozen ground beef would last longer than four months in the freezer, it would lose its quality and freshness.

How to Store Cooked Ground Beef

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How to Store Cooked Ground Beef

You can store cooked ground beef in the refrigerator or the freezer. The shelf life will not only depend on the temperature it’s kept at but also on a few hygiene factors. Here are the most important ones:

  1. Before putting the cooked meat inside the container, make sure it has been thoroughly washed and dried
  2. Use either an airtight container to store in the fridge or a freezer bag to store in the freezer.
  3. Make sure the freezer temperature is 0°F (-17.7°C)

To thaw cooked frozen ground beef, place it in the refrigerator where it will last for three to four days. 

How To Thaw Ground Beef

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How To Thaw Ground Beef

Before cooking ground beef, you should thaw it if it’s been frozen.

Like most other meat, you can thaw frozen ground beef in three ways – in the refrigerator, in the microwave oven, or under tap water. 

To thaw it in the refrigerator, transfer the frozen pack from the freezer to the fridge and leave overnight or until it’s thawed. 

It’s best to thaw ground beef in the refrigerator because while defrosting, the meat remains cold and prevents the spread of bacteria. 

Use the Auto Defrost function in your microwave oven to thaw frozen ground beef or use low power. You will need to cook it immediately after thawing for two reasons;

  • While defrosting in the microwave oven, some parts of the ground beef may already have started to cook. 
  • More importantly, the defrosted ground beef is warm from the microwave oven and is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Therefore, without refreezing, cook ground beef instantly. 

The third method for defrosting frozen ground beef is in cold water. Simply place the frozen pack in a watertight plastic bag to prevent water from going inside. 

Then submerge the pack in a bowl full of cold water. 

Every 30 minutes, change the water in the bowl or have the water running on low until the beef is completely defrosted. 

Pro Tip: Don’t leave ground beef at room temperature for more than two hours or more than an hour if the temperature is above 90°F (32°C) as bacteria can grow and cause food poisoning. 

How To Tell If Ground Beef Has Gone Bad

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How To Tell If Ground Beef Has Gone Bad

To check if your ground beef has gone bad, look for the signs mentioned below. 


The color of fresh ground beef should be bright red. This is because oxymyoglobin, the substance that gives meat its pigment reacts with the air and turns it red.

If you see that the color of ground beef is grayish or brown, that means it’s been exposed to a lot of air and has gone bad.


A strong, rancid smell that hits your nose the moment you open the package means that the ground beef has spoiled. 

Thanks to all the bacteria infesting the ground beef, you’ll get a distinct sour smell. 

Fresh meat doesn’t have any or a very subtle smell. 


A slimy and sticky texture in the ground beef is a sure sign that it has gone bad. 

Once again, the bacteria is to be blamed for the formation of slime on ground beef. 

High-quality, fresh ground beef is firm and when squeezed with fingers, it breaks apart. 

Has Your Cooked Ground Beef Gone Bad?

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Has Your Cooked Ground Beef Gone Bad

Since you have added spices and other condiments to the cooked ground beef, it’s a bit hard to tell when it has gone bad. 

Check the following signs to see if your cooked ground beef has gone bad.

  1. Any dark spots, mold, or growth on the cooked ground beef will tell you immediately it’s off. Such growth is a sure sign of fungal growth and you should throw away the cooked ground beef immediately.
  2. Another test to check if your cooked ground beef is okay or not is to smell it. If you don’t get the same aromatic smell of the cooked ground beef as when you placed it in the fridge, then something is off. A sour smell means the cooked ground beef has gone bad and should be trashed. 
  3. Last but not least, the taste of cooked ground beef that’s spoiled will give it away. Just put a small amount into your mouth. If the taste is sour or if it feels slimy, spit it out and throw it out immediately. Make sure to rinse your mouth well to prevent any trace of the spoiled cooked ground beef from getting ingested. 

Four Rules Of Handling Ground Beef At Home

Four Rules Of Handling Ground Beef At Home
Four Rules Of Handling Ground Beef At Home

The four basic rules of handling ground beef at home are as follows:


Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before and after handling ground beef. This will prevent the spread of bacteria to other food items in the kitchen. 

Don’t stop washing your hands only. 

Wash the chopping board, kitchen counters, and other kitchen utensils such as knives, pots, and bowls used to prepare the ground beef.

A solution of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water can be used to sanitize kitchen utensils and surfaces.


Items that have been safely cooked or raw foods that won’t be cooked, including salad items, might become contaminated by bacteria found in raw meat juices.

That’s why you should separate raw and cooked foods to prevent bacteria from raw ground beef from contaminating cooked food or other raw ingredients that won’t be cooked.

It’s not enough to keep raw meat separate from cooked foods. 

You have to ensure everything in the kitchen is clean because your hands, all kitchen equipment, and even the air can have dangerous bacteria in them. 

That’s why you should wash your hands and everything else in the kitchen before and after use so that you reduce the chances of cross-contamination. 

Also, never reuse the packaging in which you bought the ground beef. Always throw it away once you have taken the beef out from there. 

Unless the platter has been thoroughly cleaned, avoid placing cooked hamburgers on the same platter as the raw patties.


Keep in mind that the danger zone is the temperature window within which bacteria is most likely to develop and spread in ground beef. 

This temperature ranges between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F(60°C).

That’s why always cook ground beef to the right temperature of 160°F (71°C) to be completely sure that there’s zero presence of harmful bacteria.

A food thermometer is your best friend to measure the temperature of ground beef and keep yourself and your family safe. 


Don’t leave cooked ground beef at room temperature for more than two hours. 

As soon as it cools down, pack it away in the fridge or freezer. 

After two hours, there is a high chance that bacteria will start to grow in the meat. 

In temperatures above 90°F (32°C), ground beef should not be left outside for more than one hour. 

The Bottom Line

Although ground beef is the main ingredient in burgers, meatballs, and many other delicious dishes, you should be careful while handling, storing, thawing, and preparing raw ground beef. 

It’s very easy for harmful bacteria to grow and spread in ground beef due to its larger surface area than other types of meat cuts. 

If you store ground beef in its store packaging in the refrigerator, consume it within two days. 

You can safely store it in the freezer for up to four months. 

Always check the appearance, smell, taste, and texture of both uncooked and cooked ground beef to make sure it’s 100% safe to eat. 


Can You Eat Ground Beef After 5 Days?

If you put the ground beef in the freezer in temps at 0°F (-18°C), you can have it after five days, or within four months. 
However, you should not eat cooked ground beef that’s been in the fridge for more than four days.

How Do You Know When Ground Beef Goes Bad?

If it feels slimy to the touch, smells sour, looks gray or brown, it has gone bad. 
For cooked ground beef that has spoiled, you can see fungal growth or dark spots on the meat dish. 

How Long Does Ground Beef Last In The Fridge Unopened?

Unopened ground beef will last for one to two days in the fridge and for three to four months in the freezer. 
However, conditions apply as you need to make sure you refrigerate or freeze at the right temperatures – below 40°F (4°C) in the refrigerator and 0°F (-18°C) in the freezer.

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