When you’re entertaining, it can be hard to keep track of time, particularly once the food is on the table. However, it’s important not to let meat sit at room temperature for too long, even if it’s been cooked off. How long can cooked hamburger meat sit out and still be safe to consume? Let’s find out.
How Long Can Cooked Hamburger Meat Sit Out?
Like most cooked meats, hamburger should be discarded if it sits at room temperature for any longer than 2 hours. Otherwise, it could pose a health risk. Refrigerate all leftovers as soon as possible to ensure maximum food safety, and make sure to wrap them tightly beforehand.
Understanding the Danger Zone
All meat, whether raw or cooked, should be stored at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When it’s allowed to remain in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees, it becomes a magnet for the types of bacteria that can cause serious food-borne illness.
Once you’ve cooked off the hamburger, you have two options. Either you can find a way to keep it at 140 degrees or higher, or you can make sure to refrigerate it within 2 hours. Since maintaining a “hot zone” could dry out the meat, it’s preferable to keep an eye on the clock and put the leftovers away as soon as possible.
If you forget and leave the hamburger out for any longer than two hours, discard it immediately. Don’t be tempted to try and save it for a later use.
There’s one important exception to the 2-hour rule. When the temperature outside exceeds 90 degrees, refrigerate any cooked hamburger meat after 1 hour. In hot weather, the food will enter the danger zone much more quickly.
Recommended Internal Temperature
While we’re on the subject of safe temperatures, we should point out that ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. The same rule applies to ground lamb or veal. If you’re making turkey or chicken burgers, wait until the thermometer reads 165 degrees before taking them off the heat.
Those of you who prefer your meat rare or medium-rare are likely to balk at this recommendation. However, we urge you to take it seriously. Ground beef that hasn’t been cooked to the 160-degree mark could harbor bacteria such as E. coli and enterococcus. Some strains of these bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, which could translate into severe illness.
Storing the Cooked Hamburger
When the burgers are stored in the refrigerator, they should keep for 3 to 4 days. If you don’t plan on consuming them within that time frame, consider freezing them instead. When frozen, they’ll keep indefinitely, but you should defrost them within 3 months for best results.
Before putting the hamburger in the fridge or freezer, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. You can also store it in a shallow airtight container, depending on how it was prepared. The key is to prevent too much air or moisture from getting inside the package.
After thawing cooked hamburger meat in the fridge, you’ll have 3 to 4 days to consume it before it starts to deteriorate. If you opt to thaw the meat using the cold water method or the microwave, it will need to be consumed immediately.
How To Tell if Cooked Hamburger Meat is Bad
Even if you’ve stored the cooked meat according to the correct specifications, you should test it for freshness before eating it. Toss out any portions that smell sour or feel slimy to the touch. Never taste the meat if you suspect it’s gone past its peak.
Also, take a good look at the cooked hamburger. If you notice any discoloration or mold growth, throw it out immediately.
Will Reheating The Hamburger Meat Kill Off Bacteria?
Let’s say you forgot to put away the cooked hamburgers after the party and left the plate out overnight. Can you reheat them to kill off any potentially dangerous bacteria?
Sadly, this isn’t a foolproof technique. Some bacteria may contain toxins that are resistant to heat, meaning they’ll stick around even if you re-cook the burgers. In other words, once that 2-hour window is closed, there’s no way to safely reopen it.
Tips on Reheating Burgers
Assuming you’ve followed the guidelines for safe handling and storage, here’s how to reheat a burger so it’s just as tasty the next day. For your convenience, we’ve included methods for the toaster oven and microwave, in addition to the standard oven.
Start by preheating the toaster oven to 400 degrees. For best results, allow the cooked hamburger patty to sit at room temperature while the toaster heats up.
Set the patty in the toaster oven, directly on the rack. Place a sheet of aluminum foil beneath the rack to catch any drippings.
Allow the patty to heat for 3 minutes, then rotate it and heat for another 2 minutes or so. Extra-thick patties may take longer to heat through.
Place the patty on a microwave-safe plate. Set the plate in the microwave.
Using the “Reheat” setting, warm the burger for 1-2 minutes, depending on thickness. To test for doneness, press down on the center of the patty with the tip of your finger. When it feels hot to the touch, it’s ready to eat. If it’s not ready, continue to reheat for 30 seconds at a time until it’s reached the correct temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Set the hamburger patty directly on the oven rack with a baking sheet underneath to catch the drippings.
Heat for 3 minutes, then flip over and heat for an additional 2 minutes. If you’d like, you can place a hamburger bun alongside the patty after you flip it. That way, they’ll both be ready at the same time.
With any luck, the burgers will disappear before you have to worry about spoilage or storage techniques. However, it’s best to keep the 2-hour time frame in mind just in case.
Remember that if the weather is warmer, you’ll need to put the meat away within the hour, so you might want to cook off fewer burgers to begin with. You can always put more on the grill later if you need to.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!