No one wants to waste food, but you also need to make sure that you’re protecting yourself and your family from pathogens and foodborne illness. So how long is cooked ground beef good for?
Ground beef is an incredibly versatile ingredient, but in most cases, it doesn’t store for very long. Ground beef is also one of those meats that looks to be fine for an incredibly long time after cooking. But it’s not and it can make you incredibly sick.
Point of caution: it can be really hard to tell when cooked ground beef is bad. I did a little experiment to see what ground beef looked like up to 30 days after cooking. Keep reading to see what I found.
In this article, I’ll explain how long your ground beef should stay fresh based on how it’s been stored. And the telltale signs to look for when the meat has spoiled.
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How Long Does Cooked Ground Beef Last in the Fridge?
According to the USDA, you should use cooked ground beef within 3 to 4 days and refrigerate at or below 40°F.
Bacteria thrive on oxygen, making the meat’s exterior a hotbed for spoilage and pathogenic bacteria to grow.
When large cuts of beef, like chuck roast, are ground down into ground beef, the exterior is mushed into the interior and vice versa. So all the bacteria on the outside mixes into the inside. This is why you can eat a medium-rare steak, but you should cook your burgers to be well done.
Experiment: How Long Before Ground Beef Looks Bad?
Like I said, ground beef is one those foods that looks like its good for a very long time. To see exactly how long, I ran a small experiment. I stored some cooked ground beef we used for tacos in a small Snapware Pyrex container.
After 2 weeks, I inspected the container of cooked ground beef and found no signs of spoilage. When I opened the container there was no foul smell.
At 30 days, there were still no signs of spoilage when opening the container. No off-putting smell, no sliminess, nothing of the sort. You can see from the pictures below, the beef had lost some of its color but I didn’t notice it at the time. Seemed like perfectly fine ground beef.
However, upon further inspection, I finally noticed some mold growing on the inside of the underside of the container. It took a whole 30 days to see any signs of spoilage!
Bottom line: you can not depend on your senses, sight or smell, to know when ground beef has gone bad. Stick to 4 days at the most to avoid foodborne illness.
How Long Is Fresh Ground Beef Good For?
Similarly, this is why the USDA recommends that you use fresh ground beef within one to two days of purchase. Whereas with other cuts of beef, you have a three to five-day window.
How to Freeze Ground Beef
If you need to store ground beef for longer, freezing it is a good option. Wrap the fresh or cooked meat in freezer paper or heavy-duty plastic wrap. Aluminum foil or plastic freezer bags are also excellent options. Then, place the wrapped ground beef in the freezer. Remember to use it within 4 months.
Signs of Spoiled Ground Beef
Consuming ground beef that’s gone bad is dangerous because it may contain bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Spoiled steak and ground beef have similar unpleasant characteristics that you’ll want to keep an eye out for:
Slimy, Sticky, or Dry Texture
If you notice a slimy sheen covering your ground beef, it’s a definite indicator of spoilage bacteria. The same goes for a sticky or tacky texture or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a dry and shriveled texture.
Fresh ground beef should be firm and will crumble or break apart easily when you squeeze it. If it doesn’t look like it would make an appetizing meatball, throw it away!
Fresh, raw ground beef shouldn’t have a noticeable or unpleasant smell to it. So, if you open the package and detect a pungent or sour smell, it’s best to discard the beef.
Remember, not all spoilage bacteria smell bad. So, if you notice any other signs of spoilage, but the meat has no odor, you still shouldn’t consume it. Instead, toss it in the trash!
The exterior of raw ground beef should be a bright or deep ruby-red color. The CDC explains that oxymyoglobin reacts with oxygen exposure to create the bright red color that we’ve come to associate with fresh meat. You may see some red stuff, myoglobin, in the packaging which is commonly mistaken for blood.
The interior of ground beef might be a dull, grayish-brown color because it isn’t exposed to oxygen. This color doesn’t automatically indicate spoilage as long as it’s only within the interior. But if the outside is that same gray-brown, it could be starting to go off.
Also, keep an eye out for yellow, green, or white. If the ground beef displays any of these colors, it’s definitely spoiled and is not safe to consume.
Passed the Expiration Date
The FDA doesn’t require packaged meat to display expiration dates. But many states and municipalities have their own rules and will at least include a “Best Before” or “Sell By” date on them.
If your ground beef displays an expiration date, treat it as a hard and fast rule. Don’t eat the meat passed that date.
If your ground beef displays a “Best Before” or “Sell By” date, it doesn’t always mean the meat spoiled on that date. As long as the beef doesn’t show other signs of spoilage, it’s still safe to consume.
As always, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Spoiled meat doesn’t have to have all of these signs present. However, it’s best to discard any ground beef that appears or smells suspicious, even if it only shows one of these spoilage signs. Don’t take a chance and risk contracting foodborne illness!
The Bottom Line
The USDA recommends using raw ground beef within 2 days of purchase and cooked ground beef within 3 to 4 days.
Always make sure that you’re checking your meat for signs of spoilage to avoid contracting foodborne illness. For example, if your ground beef looks slimy or discolored or smells sour, throw it away!
Consider storing fresh or cooked ground beef in the freezer for a longer-term solution. First, wrap the meat in heavy-duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil, freezer paper, or plastic freezer bags. Then, store the beef in the freezer and use it within 4 months.
It’s seriously that easy to ensure you’re only cooking with fresh, safe-to-eat ground beef. So, what are you waiting for? Add it to the grocery list and get excited about all the delicious and beefy recipes in your future.
Cooked Ground Beef FAQs
You shouldn’t eat 7-day-old ground beef. Under ideal conditions, where cooked ground beef is refrigerated within two hours of cooking, it will last for 3-4 days in the fridge. Beyond that, the beef is subject to bacteria growth and rotting.
No, you cannot eat cooked ground beef sitting out for 8 hours. Do not eat cooked ground beef that’s been left at room temperature for more than two hours. Bacteria grow rapidly between 40°F – 140°F, so it’s best to discard any meat that’s been sitting out for more than two hours.
Cooked hamburger meat that’s been refrigerated within two hours after cooking will last for 3-4 days in the fridge.