A Guide To Safely Eating Leftover Ground Beef

Ground beef is a convenient way to include protein in your diet. It is a crucial ingredient in many popular foods such as hamburgers and meatballs. However, since ground beef has a high caloric and saturated fat content, it is best to consume it in moderation.

But what should you do if you cook or buy excess ground meat and have leftovers? Ground beef can stay in the fridge for up to two days from the date of purchase. Freezing ground beef can extend its shelf-life to months. You can use leftover ground beef to make various meals like meatloaf.

Ground beef contains essential minerals and vitamins, making it a great inclusion to your diet. However, a high intake of red meat has a wide range of health risks. So ensure to manage portion sizes for improved health. Now let’s dive right in!

How Long Does Ground Beef Last in the Fridge?

Man puts minced pork and beef in the freezer in serving bags for long storage

Most people need clarification when they find ground beef in their refrigerator. Spoiled food can mess up your dinner or even take you and others to the hospital.

Ground beef can last from one to day in the fridge, depending on whether it’s raw or cooked.

Most food safety authorities recommend that raw beef stays in the fridge for a maximum of two days after purchase. However, if you want to store raw meat longer, consider keeping it in a freezer.

Conversely, cooked ground beef can last in the fridge for three to four days. But various factors can affect the shelf life of ground beef, including the type of container and recipe you use.

How to Tell if Ground Beef is Bad?

Ground beef accounts for over 60% of the beef sold in the United States. However, grinding the meat exposes more of the meat’s surface to air. This increased surface area offers more space for microorganisms to attach to it, which makes ground beef go bad faster than larger cuts.

Both pathogenic and spoilage bacteria affect ground beef. Spoilage bacteria are usually not harmful but give food a foul odor and taste, reducing the quality of the ground beef. However, pathogenic bacteria are dangerous and might cause food poisoning.

While spoilage bacteria won’t make you fall ill, always throw away spoiled ground beef to avoid eating disease-causing microorganisms.

Below are a few ways to tell if your ground beef has gone bad:

1. Check the Color

Ground beef changes color because of various factors such as microbial growth, temperature, and exposure to oxygen. Fresh, raw ground beef should be bright red on the outside and brownish on the inside.

The interior of raw ground beef may turn grayish brown because of lack of exposure to oxygen, but this doesn’t mean it has gone bad.

Throw away ground beef if it has turned gray or brown on the outside because this is a sign of rot. Likewise, toss leftover ground beef in the bin if you notice any signs of mold, such as fuzzy green, blue, or grey spots.

2. Check the Texture

A touch test can help determine whether ground beef is bad or safe for consumption. Fresh ground beef should have a reasonably firm texture that breaks apart when squeezed.

If your cooked or raw beef has a slimy or sticky texture, it is spoiled, and you should discard it immediately. Also, wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw meat to avoid cross-contamination.

3. Conduct a Smell Test

Smelling beef is probably the fastest way to tell if meat is spoiled. While the scent of freshly cooked or raw ground beef may vary, rancid meat produces a putrid and tangy odor.

The scent of ground beef changes because of an increase in the growth of spoilage bacteria species. It is best to throw away the meat even when you don’t notice a funny smell but see spoilage signs such as discoloration.

How Long Does Ground Beef Last in the Freezer?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), ground beef is safe indefinitely when kept frozen if stored correctly and at the right temperature. But, for the best flavor and texture, it is best if cooked and eaten within four months.

You should freeze the ground beef soonest possible after purchase. Doing so slows the growth of bacteria and preserves freshness.

It’s a good idea always to have some ground beef in the freezer. This fast-cooking protein is the foundation of many delicious meals, such as burgers and casseroles.

Store your ground beef when exposed to as little air as possible to prevent discoloration and freezer burn. Although you can freeze your meat in supermarket packaging, there are better options. The plastic wrapping from the supermarket is usually porous enough to allow air to get in.

To be safe, wrap the supermarket container with a layer or two of aluminum foil before freezing. Also, mark the foil with the freezing date, so you’ll know how long it has stayed in the freezer.

If the beef was wrapped in butcher paper or a plastic bag, wrap it or place it inside a ziplock freezer bag and squeeze out as much air as possible.

How to Thaw and Reheat Frozen Ground Beef

Frozen ground meat

Defrosting ground beef using the proper process helps clear off potentially harmful bacteria. Consider the following methods for thawing frozen ground beef to ensure the meat doesn’t become tough.

Thawing in the Refrigerator

Thawing ground beef in the refrigerator is the safest way to defrost it. This method is best because it helps keep the meat in safe temperatures throughout the thawing process. Pathogens that can spoil your meat thrive at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The refrigerator warms the ground beef enough to defrost thoroughly but keeps it cool so pathogens can’t multiply. Defrosting enables you to cook the meat at 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which kills any pathogens that remain.

Follow the steps below to defrost your ground beef in the refrigerator:

  1. First, place the ground beef package on a plate that can catch any drippings.
  1. Next, place the plat on a low shelf in the fridge.
  1. Let the ground beef defrost for at least 24 hours.

Using Cold Water

If you can’t wait for 24 hours when defrosting your ground beef, you can defrost it in a bowl of cold water. This method takes less than an hour and is safe as long as you change the water as soon as it gets to room temperature.

Ensure the beef is sealed in a look-proof package and follow the steps below:

  1. Set the packaged meat in a large bowl.
  1. Cover it with cold water.
  1. Weigh the meat down with a heavy object.
  1. Leave the package in cold water for about half an hour.
  1. Test whether the meat is thawed by poking it gently with your fingers.
  1. If you feel stiffness or ice crystals, submerge the meat in fresh cold water.
  1. Once thawed fully, take the meat and cook immediately.

Weighing down your ground beef keeps the meat submerged, which is crucial to maintain it at a safe temperature for even defrosting.

Thawing in the Microwave

This is the fastest defrosting method. Thawing meat in the microwave produces safe ground beef, but you must cook it immediately after.

Below are the steps for thawing ground beef in the microwave:

  1. First, remove the meat from the packaging, then place the meat on a plate.
  1. Use the microwave’s defrosting setting or set it at half power for about three minutes.
  1. Rotate and flip the beef after every 30 seconds until completely thawed.
  1. Cook the meat immediately and thoroughly to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

You should never refreeze beef if you thaw it in the microwave. This is because microwaving exposes the meat to high temperatures that can increase the growth of harmful microbes. Always use this method if you are going to cook the meat immediately.

Ways to Use Up Your Leftover Ground Beef

Don’t let your leftover ground beef go to waste. Instead, you can use your leftover ground beef to create yummy recipes, from cheesy pies to casseroles.

Cheeseburger Mac and Chees

Mac and cheese is a popular dish across the U.S., but adding some ground beef to the mix elevates the dish’s flavor. Also, you can boil your macaroni in milk for an extra milky dish before adding the cheese.

Ground Beef Casserole

You can add your ground beef to baked dishes such as a casserole. Add cooked ground beef to the casserole before baking and cook for less than 30 minutes.

Beef Noodle Casserole

Consider using egg noodles, especially if you love making a noodle casserole because egg noodles are lighter than pasta. Cook your ground beef in marinara sauce, add it to the cooked egg noodles and bake the dish for 20 minutes.

Ground Beef and Rice Bowls

Cook the ground beef in a pan with minced garlic, then add a mixture of soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil. Serve your sweetened savory beef over a bowl of warm rice and garnish it with sesame seeds and some spring onions.

Ground Beef Quesadillas

If you love Mexican cuisine, consider this flavorful snack.

You can make your tortillas or go with store-bought ones, which makes the dish easier to prepare. Consider adding extras like corn or pepper to taste. Dip them in some salsa or sour cream for an added twist.

Ground Beef Tacos

Ground Beef Tacos

Tacos from ground beef usually take 15 minutes to prepare and are easily customizable. Add some seasoning to your ground beef, place it on the tortillas and top the taco with onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. You can also add a squeeze of fresh lime.

Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed peppers are a yummy and colorful way to use leftover ground beef. They are fun to make, and you customize them by adding your favorite ingredients, like sweet potatoes, corn, and melted mozzarella.

Hamburger Hash

This is a budget-friendly meal that’s also yummy. It works well with raw or cooked leftover ground beef. You only need to add some diced potatoes and seasoning.

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