How long can ground meat stay in the fridge? (How to store)

In this brief guide, we are going to answer the question “How long can ground meat stay in the fridge” with an in-depth analysis of the shelf life of ground meat in different mediums. 

How long can ground meat stay in the fridge?

Raw ground meat can be refrigerated for approximately 1-2 days, provided that safety standards are rigorously adhered to. Conversely, cooked ground meat maintains its freshness in the fridge for approximately 3-4 days.

Ground meat is considered highly perishable, and its susceptibility to spoilage is amplified due to its increased surface area when ground. This greater surface area provides a more conducive environment for bacteria to proliferate.

Additionally, during the mincing and grinding process, any bacteria that were initially confined to the meat’s surface become evenly distributed throughout the entire mixture. Consequently, this increases the likelihood of contamination and hastens the deterioration of ground meat. (1, 2)

Can ground beef be frozen?

Yes, ground beef can be frozen.  Freezing is a preservation method that uses low temperatures to extend the shelf life of meat products. Freezing slows down the growth of microorganisms and the deterioration processes, effectively preserving the meat’s overall quality.

Freezing helps to preserve tenderness, color, water-holding capacity, and flavor. While freezing generally enhances meat tenderness, it’s worth noting that it can have potentially adverse impacts on other aspects of its quality.

For long-term storage, it’s ideal to use durable materials such as plastic wrap, aluminum foil, freezer paper, or specialized plastic bags designed for freezing. Ground beef can be safely stored in the freezer indefinitely, although its quality will gradually degrade over time so it should be consumed within 4 months.  (1, 2)

How does temperature affect ground beef?

Temperature plays a significant role in regulating the proliferation of microorganisms. Most spoilage-causing bacteria thrive in an optimal temperature range of 12 to 30 °C.

However, when meat is subjected to chilling, temperatures drop to a range of 2–4 °C, initiating a cold shock that impairs and ultimately destroys microbial cells. Maintaining meat at temperatures below 4 °C effectively inhibits bacterial growth, extending its shelf life by several days.

Further lowering the temperature to −2 to −18 °C results in a complete halt of both microbial and enzymatic activities.

This is due to the freezing process itself and the absence of accessible water. Freezing is a common practice for meat intended for export purposes, while fresh red meat is typically chilled for domestic markets. (3)

How long does ground meat last after being frozen and thawed?

It is advisable to either cook or refreeze ground meat within 1 or 2 days. The safest thawing method is the refrigerator method where is possible to maintain a cold setting while thawing which helps to prevent bacterial growth. For a quicker thawing alternative, you have the option of using the microwave or cold water.

For the microwave method, the ground beef must be cooked immediately because in the microwave certain parts of the meat can start to cook during the defrosting process making it prone to microbial growth

For the cold water thawing method, the meat must be placed in a watertight plastic bag and immersed in cold water that should be changed every 30 minutes. Once thawed, the meat should be promptly cooked. Avoid refreezing raw ground beef that has been thawed using cold water or the microwave. (1)

How to tell if ground meat has gone off?

The key indicators of ground meat spoilage include changes in texture, the presence of sliminess or excess liquids, alterations in color, and the development of unpleasant odors. These signs of spoilage typically arise from a variety of mechanisms.

Natural processes occurring within the meat, such as lipid oxidation or enzymatic reactions within muscle cells after slaughter, can contribute to spoilage.

However, the primary driver of spoilage is the inevitable introduction of microorganisms, primarily bacteria, during various stages of animal-to-meat processing. Following this introduction, these microorganisms multiply and engage in metabolic activities during storage.

The level of microbial contamination can be influenced by each processing stage, while storage conditions play a crucial role in shaping the composition of bacterial communities. Consequently, this affects the progression of microbial spoilage over time. (4)

How to safely handle ground meat?

To safely handle ground meat it is advisable to promptly refrigerate or freeze it after purchase. If the meat is intended for immediate consumption, it can be kept in its original packaging. For optimal bacteria control, it’s essential to store ground beef at 40 °F (4.4 °C) or colder and consume it within 2 days, or freeze it for longer preservation.

Ground meat is more vulnerable to harmful bacteria because the process of grinding meat increases its surface area and can spread bacteria from the surface of the meat.

Bacterial growth tends to accelerate within the “Danger Zone,” which encompasses temperatures between 40 and 140 °F (4.4 and 60 °C). Its not advisable to leave ground beef or any perishable food at room temperature for more than 2 hours. This time frame is even shorter, only 1 hour when temperatures reach 90 °F (32.2 °C) or higher. (1)

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the question “How long can ground meat stay in the fridge” with an in-depth analysis of the shelf life of ground meat in different mediums.

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References

1.-

U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety Website. Washington, DC. Ground Beef and Food Safety. 2016.

2.-

DANG, David S. et al. Crystallization behavior and quality of frozen meat. Foods, v. 10, n. 11, p. 2707, 2021.

3.-

Nethra, Perichitala Vasudev, et al. Critical factors affecting the shelf life of packaged fresh red meat–A Review. Measurement: Food: 100086. 2023.

4.-

Rovira P, Brugnini G, Rodriguez J, Cabrera MC, Saadoun A, de Souza G, Luzardo S, Rufo C. Microbiological Changes during Long-Storage of Beef Meat under Different Temperature and Vacuum-Packaging Conditions. Foods.12(4):694. 2023.