How Long Does Ground Beef Last in the Fridge? (And Signs It’s Bad)

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If you’re wondering how long ground beef can last in the fridge before going bad, you’re in the right place!

In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, you’ll learn: 

  • How long cooked ground beef lasts in the fridge
  • How long it lasts if it’s uncooked
  • How to tell when its bad
  • And much more!
how long does ground beef last in the fridge

Many people have looked at the ground beef in their fridge with complete confusion.

Spoiled food can ruin your dinner at best and bring you and others to the hospital at worst. And if it’s been in there for a little while, how can someone really know when it has gone bad?

Keep reading to learn more.

How Long Does Ground Beef Last in the Fridge?

Ground beef can last 1-4 days in the fridge. The timeline mainly depends on whether or not the ground beef was cooked. 

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How Long Does Ground Beef Last in the Fridge if it’s Raw?

Many food safety authorities and organizations say that raw ground beef can be kept inside the refrigerator for 1-2 days after your purchase.

If you’d like to store it for a longer period of time, it can be kept inside the freezer for longer, typically three to four months. This will ensure maximum freshness and flavors when it’s time for cooking.

What Spoils Raw Ground Beef So Quickly?

If you’ve checked other types of meat, you’ll find that their safe storage periods can be much longer.

For example, raw steak can be stored for up to 5 days in the fridge and up to 12 months in the freezer.

So why does ground beef spoil so much quicker?

It’s all about the surface area of the meat. When livestock is butchered, it passes through several stages of processing before it reaches your grocery store.

In this process, it is exposed to many types of germs and bacteria, but these stay on the surface of the meat. Steaks and other, larger cuts have relatively small surface areas, and these surfaces are all directly exposed to heat during cooking.

This kills the microorganisms and makes the meat palatable, and since the germs aren’t able to penetrate the inner portion of the meat, rare steaks are safe to eat.

Ground beef, on the other hand, has a lot more surface area. It also goes through additional processing steps, including the grinding process, which exposes it to even more microorganisms and mixes these into the meat.

That’s why ground beef typically has the most bacteria compared to other types of meat. This makes it much more susceptible to spoilage.

Read Also >> How to Grill Frozen Burgers

How to Tell If Raw Ground Beef Has Gone Bad

There are a few ways to check if raw ground beef has gone bad. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Color: Fresh, high-quality beef has a bright-red color. This color results from oxymyoglobin reacting to the air. You may have seen this red liquid ooze out from the beef, which people often mistake for blood. If the surface is no longer red and has a dark gray color, it’s been exposed to too much air; this could mean that the ground beef has already gone bad.
  • Texture: Raw ground beef should be firm and break apart if squeezed between your fingers. However, spoiled beef will typically have a slimy texture and a sticky feeling. This is caused by the growth of bacteria, which creates volatile compounds during production which react with the beef to create slime.
  • Smell: The strongest indicator of spoiled ground meat is the smell. Fresh raw meat typically has no odor. If there is a smell, it should be subtle; it certainly shouldn’t make your eyes water. Spoiled meats will have a strong odor caused by the overgrowth of bacteria. If your meats have a strong smell, discard them immediately.

Storage Tips

  • Keep the internal temperature of your refrigerator under 40°F.
  • Separate ground beef from other foods to avoid cross-contamination.
  • If you’re putting your meat in the freezer, wrap it in something to prevent freezer burn.
  • Defrost the meat only when you’re ready to cook it.

Choose USDA-Certified Meats

Today’s food safety standards are more than enough to ensure that you’re only getting the cleanest meat available.

Still, some harmful bacteria can contaminate even the most rigorously prepared ground beef. E. coli and salmonella are the most common ones, and they don’t change the color or smell of the meat.

Freezing ground beef won’t kill them off, and they can even contaminate your cooking utensils during contact.

To be more confident in your ground beef, choose meat that’s been USDA-certified.

While it’s not a complete guarantee that there are no pathogens in your meat, the certification gives you extra assurance that the product has passed food safety standards.

Does the Sell-By Date Matter?

Should you take note of the sell-by date before freezing your meat? Not necessarily.

This date is a guide for retailers so they’ll know the maximum amount of days that they have to sell the product. If you get yours on the day of the sell-by date, you should still be able to store it in your fridge for one to two days.

Read Also >> How to Tell If Steak Has Gone Bad

ground beef in the fridge fact

How Long Does Cooked Ground Beef Last in the Fridge?

Cooked ground beef can last for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

And for those who have space in their freezers, cooked ground beef can stay fresh for up to four months when frozen.

Again, however, there is nuance to this; several factors affect the shelf life of the product, such as the recipe and containers that you use.

What Spoils Cooked Ground Beef?

Cooked ground beef has very different properties than raw ground beef. Applying heat loosens proteins and kills most bacteria, making the product edible and delicious.

When the internal temperature reaches 160°F, most microorganisms — including E. Coli and salmonella — are already eliminated.

Undercooking will not kill these germs; they will remain active and continue to multiply during consumption and storage. That’s why ground beef needs to reach 160°F before it’s safe to eat.

While other cuts of beef only need 140°F, ground beef has to reach a higher temperature because of the aforementioned larger surface area and higher risk of contamination.

We recommend having a meat or food thermometer for accurate monitoring of the temperature of your beef. That way, you can avoid undercooking and prevent quick spoilage.

Another factor that spoils cooked ground meat is cross-contamination.

All cuts of meat are vulnerable to this, but more so ground beef because of how much surface can come in contact with contaminants.

Even if it’s cooked, ground beef can still get pathogens from utensils, containers, and dirty hands. Make sure that everything in your kitchen is kept clean when cooking.

Read Also >> How to Smoke Steak

How to Tell If Cooked Ground Beef Has Gone Bad

Cooked beef can be much harder to examine than raw beef. Since it’s already combined with other ingredients for your recipe, you can’t touch it to see if there’s a slimy texture. Instead, you can rely on the following tips to check if your cooked ground beef has gone bad after taking it out of the fridge.

  • Smell: Much like raw ground beef, the biggest indicator that cooked meat has gone bad is its smell. If it’s still good, it should have the same aroma from before you placed it in the fridge. But if there are different odors, like a sour or foul stench, then the ground beef is spoiled and should be discarded.
  • Taste: If smelling the cooked ground beef doesn’t give you any indication, then you can taste a small amount. Anything off, like a slimy texture or sour taste, should prompt you to discard it. It goes without saying, but don’t swallow the spoiled meat. Spit it out immediately and rinse your mouth if it’s gone bad.
  • Appearance: Unlike raw ground beef, it’s much harder to tell if cooked meat has gone bad by just the appearance. However, you can check for molds, fuzzy growths, or dark spots on the meat to check if it’s still good. If you find any indication of fungi on the surface, then throw the meat away.

Storage Tips

  • Clean the container thoroughly and make sure it’s dry before placing the cooked meat inside of it.
  • An air-tight container or heavy-duty freezer bag is your best option.
  • Keep the temperature at 0°F in the freezer to maximize shelf life.
  • To thaw cooked ground beef, take it out of the freezer and place it in the refrigerator. It can last for three to four days before it’s unsafe.

Preventing Cross-Contamination

If your ground beef is cooked thoroughly, then there shouldn’t be any danger of microorganisms during consumption. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s immune to cross-contamination.

Cooked ground beef is most susceptible to this when it’s left to cool down before storing it in the fridge.

When it’s fresh off the stove or oven, the meat is still hot enough to kill bacteria on the surface. But as it cools down, the warm surface makes for the perfect environment where bacteria can rapidly multiply.

To avoid this, keep your containers clean and free from contaminants. Always keep your working environment sanitary as well. Inside the fridge, keep the raw and cooked meat separate. This helps prevent juices from leaking to the cooked ground beef and causing spoilage.

Read Also >> How To Grill Frozen Steak On A Grill

Final Thoughts

Raw and cooked ground beef are special cuts of meat that need more care during storage. Because of their large surface area, there are more places where contaminants and bacteria can cling. That’s why their shelf life, both in the fridge and freezer, is much shorter than other cuts of beef.

Raw ground beef can only stay for up to two days inside the refrigerator and up to four months in the freezer. Cooked ground beef can hold up for longer, remaining fresh inside the fridge for up to four days and in the freezer for four months.

Keep this information in mind for the next time you’re out buying and cooking ground beef! It will help you ensure proper storage and improve food safety in your kitchen. Plus, you’ll have a better understanding of the best time to use ground beef for the best flavors.

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Shawn Hill

Shawn Hill

Hey, I’m Shawn and I run this site. With a wife and 7 kids, I get most of my grilling practice from feeding my own family.

I’m here to help you learn more about grilling, smoking, and backyard BBQ! With almost a decade of manning the grill and helping over 25,000 aspiring grill masters, you’re in great hands!

I’ve tried just about every type of grill, accessory, and gadget you can imagine. Because of that, I am here to help guide you to the best of the best and help you save time and money by avoiding the junk.

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