In this article, I will answer how long does ground beef last in your fridge but also how long it lasts in the freezer, signs of spoilage, and tips to help extend the life of the beef.
Ground beef is a popular meat and works for many recipes and dishes. However, one ground beef does not last as long as other meats. Sometimes we go to the store and grab a pound of meat, thinking ahead while planning our weekly family menu.
However, life gets busy and dinner plans get postponed. Now that you know that ground beef will sit in the fridge, you are wondering how long ground beef lasts in the fridge before it goes bad.
How long Does ground beef last in the fridge – Raw Meat
Food is our precious fuel, but it does have a shelf life, and that also includes ground beef meat.
Ground beef can last one to two days in a refrigerator as per Food the Food and Safety website. This also depends on the freshness of the meat, which can be calculated by looking at the “sell by” stamp on the meat package. If you buy fresh meat and store it in the right compartment in your fridge, you can get up to two days out of the meat from the date of purchase before it starts showing signs of spoilage.
If you buy ground beef close to the end of its “sell by” date, then unfortunately you might get about a day out of the meat even if stored in the fridge. Also, meat that has been sitting on the store shelf and is too close to the “sell by” date will not taste as fresh and will not last as long in the fridge as a pound of beef that has just been placed on the store cooler.
Ground beef has a short “fridge life,” but the key is to buy as fresh as you can.
How Long does Ground beef last in the freezer – Raw
Just like with other meats and foods, storing ground beef in the freezer can extend its shelf life. Ground beef can last anywhere from three to four months and be free of contamination. Just keep in mind that when you thaw the meat, it might not taste as fresh as if you cooked it right after you purchased it.
I like to use unfrozen ground beef in grilling recipes because the smokey flavor and seasoning help to mask any signs of lack of freshness.
And here is the important part: unfrozen raw ground beef should never be refrozen. I calculate my meal plans so that if I take food from the freezer, it is cooked immediately.
I sometimes buy meat from club stores and buy in bulk to save some cash, but I have a large freezer in my garage where I can keep large cuts of meat frozen for long periods safely.
How long does “Cooked” Ground Beef last in the Fridge
Just as with other cooked meals and meat cuts, ground beef can last about 3 to 4 days in your refrigerator. So, if you cooked extra meat and have leftovers, you can eat the ground beef after a few days. Always follow the USDA guidelines on how to safely handle leftovers.
As with every food and raw meat, the point of following safe and healthy guidelines from sources like the USDA and other Health and Food organizations to make sure you are handling food correctly.
The biggest issue with mishandled food is bacteria growth. If you consume bad ground beef or any other meat, even if kept in your refrigerator, it can cause health problems.
Also, spoiled food can contaminate other foods in your fridge. Also referred to as food cross-contamination.
What causes raw ground beef to spoil in just a few days
Ground beef spoils quickly because it is skinless and very exposed, allowing for greater levels of bacteria and microorganisms to come into contact with the meat during packaging and manufacturing.
Meat comes from animals, and bacteria and microorganisms are already in the animal and thus in the meat before it is processed, packaged, and delivered to stores.
During the stages of processing and butchering, the meat is exposed to more bacteria and contamination. Even though butchers and food processing companies follow strict guidelines, more bacteria get into the meat during these steps. Pre-handling of live sticks also plays a factor in meat quality and post-processing slicing speed.
Things like butchering, cutting, and processing the meat through different machines expose the meat to bacteria, microorganisms, and lipid oxidation. In turn, this bacteria is killed when food is cooked to proper temperatures, but the point is that the bacteria is there and is actively growing. This is why, once again, meats must be cooked to proper internal temperatures to ensure bacteria are killed.
The way livestock is handled prior to being processed also contributed to the meat’s quality and likelihood of early spoilage. Factors like nutrition, transportation methods, and lairage contribute to meat products’ spoilage rate.
Most fresh ground beef is uncured or preserved using preservatives with no nitrites, organic acids, or sulfides, so we can say that its freshness is also its downfall.
Refrigeration and freezing ground beef are ways to slow bacteria growth and spoilage. Sure, there are other ways of preserving ground beef, but some are far-fetched and more factory methods than stuff we can do in a home kitchen.
How can you tell that ground beef is going bad
There are a few telltale signs of ground beef spoilage, or at least that it is starting to go bad. As we discussed earlier, storing the meat in the refrigerator as soon as you can slows down bacteria growth and avoids spoilage for a couple of days, but if you believe you have passed that mark, there are a few signs that the ground beef is going bad or has been in the fridge for too long.
It’s important to know that the color of ground beef can change due to lighting or exposure to oxygen in fresh air. Fresh ground beef should have a red tone as its levels of oxymyoglobin absorb oxygen (2). As you open the ground beef package, the meat in the inner and bottom portions of the package might look more pink or even grayish because of a lack of oxygen, and that is normal.
However, if the outside portion of the ground beef has turned gray or has a brown tone, it has started to spoil and is best to dispose of.
Also, if you notice any mold spots or green and blue spots, the meat has spoiled (4).
Another way to tell that the ground beef is bad is by doing a quick texture test. Touch the beef, and if it feels slimy, it should be disposed of. Good ground beef should feel firm to the touch and break apart when pulled, but it should not have a slimy, sticky consistency (5). Please remember to wash your hands after touching the meat.
Ground Beef Smell
Fresh raw ground beef has very little smell, but if the meat has a tangy smell, it is likely going bad and should not be consumed. The smell comes from bacteria (Lactobacillus and Pseudomonas spp.) and is no longer safe to eat (6).
The reason we list color and texture tests higher than this smell test is because pathogenic bacteria does not smell, but at this stage you should notice color and texture signs of spoilage (4).
This is pretty obvious, but I have often rushed in and out of the supermarket and forgotten to check the expiration date on the ground beef package. There are two type of date stamps you need to be aware and they both have different meanings,
First you have the sell-by dates, which indicate how long the store can display the ground beef on their shelves. The ground beef can be safely stored in your fridge and consumed up to two days from the “sell-by” date (7).
Then there is the “expiration date or best before date,” which is when the ground beef will start to go bad. If you have frozen the meat before these dates, it can last up to four months, but if you have not, then it will need to be trashed (7).
So it is important to pay attention to the labels and clearly understand their meaning.
Stages of Ground Beef Spoilage
So we have talked about how long beef will last in your fridge, but below you can view different spoilage stages.
- Color Change
- Texture Change
- Surface slime
Tips for preserving Ground Beef and Food
Bacteria starts growing on food rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, referred to as the danger zone. In a matter of hours, food left outside your refrigerator can reach these temperatures, and bacteria growth will accelerate.
Try to plan your trip to the grocery store, and if you are planning on buying meat, it is best to stick to a quick route. Plan on going to the grocery store and returning to your home as soon as possible so that you can place your groceries in your fridge as soon as possible.
Sure, Walmart and Home Goods have sales, but leaving raw foods in your car means it can reach “danger zone” temperatures, which accelerate spillage.
Take a small cooler with you. I know this sounds drastic, but it is effective. You can take a small Yeti or any type of cooler with you in the car and place those perishable items in the cooler as soon as you get to your car. This will help a lot in keeping the meat fresh and slowing any bacteria growth.
Lastly, put perishable items like ground beef in your refrigerator as soon as possible. Other canned goods, cereal, and rice can wait.
Raw ground beef can last up to two days in your refrigerator and up to four months in the freezer. Always be sure to read the expiration and sell-by dates, and don’t hesitate to throw away bad beef if you suspect it has gone bad.