Sometimes you're too busy to cook our beef the second you get home from the store, or you change your mind about dinner and the meat sits for another day in the fridge. But since raw and cooked ground beef doesn't last all that long in the fridge, your best bet would be to freeze it. And although ground beef stays good in the freezer for a long time, its flavor does degrade over time. So here's the ultimate guide to freezing your extra ground beef, from how long frozen beef is good for to how to properly defrost it. Adhere to these rules and you'll never have to worry about spoiled meat again.
How Long Is Ground Beef Good In the Fridge?
According to the Food Network, raw ground beef should be kept in the fridge for one to two days, at which point it should either be frozen or cooked. When it comes to storing, Butcher Cara Nicoletti told Food52 that meat should be kept on the bottom shelf of the fridge where it's the coolest and also where juices can't drip down and contaminate other foods.
Cooked ground beef is good in the fridge for three to four days, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), because while the fridge keeps bacteria from growing quickly, it doesn't prevent it entirely. That's why the freezer is the best option for long term storage.
How To Tell If Ground Beef Is Good
Raw or thawed ground beef should never be slimy to the touch, according to the Food Network. Additionally, you should toss the beef if it's acquired a smell. Butcher Cara Nicoletti told Food52 that "fresh beef has a subtle clean, irony smell." So if yours smells fishy, like ammonia or sulfur, or just smells strong in general, it's probably not good to eat any longer.
Color can be an indicator on freshness, but not always. Nicoletti said meat that has been frozen can sometimes change color from red to brownish-gray due to a lack of oxygen or introduction of oxygen in the freezer, but it can still be fine to eat. But if the meat has only ever been in your fridge and it turns brown, it's probably not good anymore, and the smell and slimy touch would further confirm that.
Frozen meat is generally good for a while, but The Kitchn reported that a gathering of ice crystals inside the package may indicate that it's lost moisture. It would still be safe to eat, but maybe not quite as delicious.
How Long Is Ground Beef Good In the Freezer?
Loss of moisture is a big reason why frozen ground beef loses flavor over long periods of time, according to the USDA's freezing and food safety guide. So while meat could technically last forever in a properly cooled freezer (that remains at 0°F), it also has a "best by" shelf life. Cooked ground beef lasts two to three months in the freezer, because some moisture is lost through the cooking process. Raw beef can last three to four months in the freezer, per the USDA.
How To Properly Store Ground Beef In The Freezer
Ground beef can be frozen in its original store packaging for up to two weeks, according to the Food Network. If you plan to keep it for longer than that, you can wrap over the original packaging with foil or a freezer bag to keep air from getting in. Be sure to label the meat with the date you froze it so there's no guessing how long it's been in there.
Also, the USDA says that the earlier you freeze the beef, the better. If you put it in the freezer as soon as you get home from the grocery store, it will be fresher when you defrost it than if you froze it closer to its expiration date or if you froze it already cooked.
Cooked beef should be refrozen within three to four days as long as it was never left out of the fridge for longer than two hours, according to the USDA. Raw meat that was frozen and thawed in the fridge can be refrozen one to two days after it's been removed from the freezer if you don't plan to cook it right away. But Nicoletti warned that it will lose moisture in the thawing process and won't be as tasty when refrozen and thawed again. Only raw meat that has stayed in the fridge or cooked meat has only been left out for a couple of hours can safely be refrozen.
How To Properly Defrost Ground Beef
There are several ways to properly defrost beef, but you should never defrost it out on the kitchen counter because that exposes the meat to harmful bacteria over a long period of time. Instead, Nicoletti told Food52 that people should put the frozen beef in the fridge overnight to gradually thaw (on the bottom shelf to prevent juices leaking onto other foods). It's safe to keep in the fridge for two days once you pull it from the freezer.
If you need to thaw it faster, you can put it in a zippered plastic bag and submerge it in cold water for one to three hours or until thawed. Nicoletti said to change the water out every 30 minutes to ensure it stays cold. According to the USDA, you can also defrost in the microwave. Beef defrosted in water or in the microwave needs to be cooked immediately after thawing.
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