Ground beef is a staple in the American diet. As a nation, we eat 27.3 billion pounds of beef every year!
Ground beef is perfect in lasagna, ideal for tacos, and the primary ingredient in a traditional cheeseburger. Whether you’re making a decadent, special occasion dish or something healthy and lean for the whole family, beef is an excellent choice.
Still, like all good things, ground beef won’t last forever. The last thing you want is clearly inedible meat in your fridge when you’ve got an entire meal planned around it.
So, how long can you depend on ground beef to last in the fridge? And is there anything you can do to help it last even a few days longer? That’s what we’re here to uncover.
How Long Does Ground Beef Last: Raw Ground Beef
You’ve got your raw, high-quality, 80/20 ground beef ready to be shaped and grilled into a beautiful, succulent burger just sitting in the fridge waiting for you. Knowing how long that beef is going to last is critical information as it determines when you’ll need to purchase the beef and how to plan out your dish in advance.
Generally speaking, raw, USDA-grade beef will last about three days in the fridge when properly stored. This is from when you get the beef into the fridge, whether you bought it from the grocery store, a butcher, or had it delivered directly to you.
However, it’s especially important with raw meat to take note of the package date and keep the quality of the meat in mind. Lower-grade beef isn’t prepared or cared for as well and will likely spoil sooner, and if you purchase meat several days after it’s already been packaged, then you might not have any time left at all.
How Long Does Ground Beef Last: Cooked Ground Beef
If you’re wondering about the safety of that delicious beef gravy you cooked over the weekend, it’s typically a safe bet to eat if it’s spent less than three days covered in the fridge.
As with raw beef, always inspect your meat prior to reheating it. You want to look for signs of graying, any noticeable moisture, and any unfamiliar or unpleasant smells. Scent is one of the biggest giveaways that your ground beef has gone bad — cooked or not.
How To Prolong the Shelf Life of Ground Beef in the Fridge
You may be wondering if you’ll always have to plan your meals with a three-day meat window or if you can bulk-buy ground beef in preparation for the future.
The truth is that there’s only so much you can do to extend the shelf life when storing ground beef and other types of meat, however, you can set yourself up for success with a few easy tricks.
Air Is the Enemy
The life-giving oxygen that’s all around us is also one of our worst enemies when it comes to preserving meat. Two types of bacteria grow in meat: pathogenic bacteria and spoilage bacteria.
These microorganisms are what cause our meat to lose its bright red color and take on a nasty smell and slimy texture. However, pathogenic bacteria have no observable reaction to meat-— until after you’ve already consumed it, that is.
Both of these bacteria require oxygen and warmth to thrive, which can lead to spoiled ground beef. That’s why keeping your beef in a container that’s had the air removed and is tightly sealed is the best way to store both raw and cooked beef and prevent foodborne illnesses.
Consider placing any beef in a zip-lock plastic bag instead of the original packaging and making sure to roll out as much air as possible before placing it in the fridge.
Watch Your Temperature
As mentioned, bacteria need a specific window of temperature to grow. This is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which also happens to be where most of us tend to keep our living spaces. While this is comfortable for us, it’s also very comfortable for illness-causing bacteria — which is definitely not what we want.
Always ensure that your ground beef (or any meat for that matter) remains below 40 degrees until it’s ready to be cooked. If your raw meat is left out for more than two hours, you run the risk of consuming bacteria.
The same advice goes for the higher end of that window. When cooking ground beef, there is a little bit more wiggle room as far as how high the internal temperature needs to go. Some people like their burgers medium, even medium rare. This is usually 130 on a food thermometer.
Still, be cautious. Anything shy of 160, and you may still have some bacteria in your meat. If you are going to cook your burgers with some pink in the middle, always do so with high-quality beef.
Freeze Ground Beef When You Can
If your ground meat is reaching its second day or you bought it and realized you won't be using it until next week, we recommend skipping the fridge altogether and going straight to a freezer bag.
Freezing your fresh ground beef will extend its shelf life up to several months past the printed sell-by date and expiration date. That’s true as long as you store it in an airtight container that stops the growth of harmful bacteria and freezer burn. This makes purchasing ground beef in bulk a bit more of a viable option.
Reheating Your Meat
Meat tends to develop bacteria, and unfortunately, that applies to raw and already-cooked meat.
Whether your ground beef is in a dish or by itself, it’s always best to reheat it to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill off bacteria like salmonella (which can cause food poisoning). Even if you’ve perfectly stored and covered your dish, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Ground beef is a commonly found meat because it’s affordable and so easy to implement into a wide variety of dishes, making it a great option for even the pickiest of eaters. But, while you might be tempted to stock up on ground beef, just be sure to freeze it in a vacuum-sealed container unless you plan on using it within the next three days.
Always inspect your meat before heating and consuming, and never leave food at room temperature for any more than 2 hours … or else you might find yourself in trouble.