Raw Ground Beef Left Out Overnight: Now What Do I Do?

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Ground meat with onions and herbs

If you enter the kitchen and find that you’ve left a package of raw ground beef on the counter, what happens next? Will the meat still be safe to consume after it’s cooked? Our guide to raw ground beef left out overnight will answer these questions, along with several others.

What Should I Do With Raw Ground Beef Left Out Overnight?

You should discard any raw ground beef that’s been left out overnight. All raw meat products should stay in the refrigerator until you’re ready to prepare them. The USDA recommends keeping meat at room temperature for no longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the ambient temperature exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

How Long Can Raw Ground Beef Left Out?

All meat products should be stored at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If they’re kept at room temperature—or anywhere between 40 and 140 degrees—for too long, they could attract the kind of bacteria that causes food-borne illnesses.

As a rule of thumb, don’t leave raw ground beef out for any longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the temperature outside is 90 degrees or more. Leave the raw meat in the fridge until you’re ready to start cooking.

This means that if you’ve left raw ground beef out overnight, you should discard it immediately. Even if it looks and smells fine, it’s not worth the risk. This is the case even if the meat is cooked.

It’s fine to leave a plate of uncooked burgers next to the grill while you’re waiting to start the next batch, but make sure not to wait too long or the meat could enter the danger zone between 40 and 140 degrees. This is important no matter what time of year it is, but it’s crucial in hot weather.

Ground beef on a plate

How Long Does Ground Beef Last In The Fridge?

You should always prepare and consume raw ground beef within a day or two of purchase. While high-quality ground beef might last a bit longer, it will usually start to deteriorate after 48 hours in the fridge.

Cooking off the ground beef will buy you a little more time. Like most cooked meat, it should keep for 3 to 4 days under the proper conditions. As always, if you don’t think you’ll be able to consume it all within that time frame, consider freezing it instead.

For best results, keep the meat wrapped tightly and store it on the lower shelf of the fridge. If you plan to freeze it, seal it in an airtight package and defrost it within 8 months.

How To Tell If Ground Meat Has Gone Bad

Ground beef is a popular grocery item in the US, where it accounts for about 60 percent of all beef products sold for home preparation. Despite its popularity, it’s more prone to spoilage than larger cuts of beef. Here’s why.

When meat is ground or finely chopped, more of its surface area is exposed to the air. That gives spoilage and pathogenic bacteria more room to adhere. While spoilage bacteria aren’t always harmful, they’ll make the food less appetizing. Pathogenic bacteria, on the other hand, are the type of bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

When spoilage bacteria are present, there’s a good chance that they’ve been followed by the pathogenic variety. This is why you should always discard raw beef if it shows any signs of spoilage.

Spoiled ground beef usually carries telltale signs. The key is to familiarize yourself with them. Before you cook the meat, take a look at the following characteristics.


First of all, check the color of the meat. When it’s fresh, ground beef is bright red due to the presence of oxymyoglobin, which is the result of its proteins reacting with oxygen.

When you break through the outer surface, however, you might encounter brown or grayish meat. That doesn’t mean it’s gone bad—the dulled color is a natural reaction to oxygen deprivation. On the other hand, if the exterior has turned gray or brown, the meat is definitely past its prime and should be thrown out.

We should also point out that cooked ground beef can grow mold if it’s stored for too long, even if it’s kept in the refrigerator. Inspect leftovers for any furry spots or green, blue, or gray patches, and toss it if you notice anything suspicious.


Fresh ground beef is firm to the touch, but will usually break into chunks under light pressure. If it’s spoiled, it may feel slimy or sticky to the touch. This is true whether the beef is raw or cooked.

Don’t forget to wash your hands immediately after handling raw meat, even if you’ve determined that it’s safe to eat. For more advice on sanitation and quality control, see Tips For Safe Handling, below.


The sniff test is arguably the quickest method when it comes to determining freshness. Again, you can apply it to both raw and cooked ground beef.

If the ground beef is fresh, it shouldn’t have a discernible odor. When it’s harboring spoilage bacteria, however, it will begin to take on a rancid odor. If the meat smells especially sweet or tangy—or worse—then it’s no longer fit for consumption.

While the sniff test offers an easy way to detect spoilage, it’s not necessarily foolproof. If the meat smells fine but the texture is slimy or the color is off, you should still toss it.

Expiration Date

Check the “sell-by” date on the package. You should be able to safely consume the ground beef for 2 days past this point, as long as it’s been properly stored.

The “best by” or “best before” date, meanwhile, indicates the point at which the meat will begin to turn the corner. For best results, it should be cooked and eaten before this date. Should you find yourself running out of time, consider putting the ground beef in the freezer for later use.

Grilling raw beef hamburgers

Tips For Safe Handling

You can head off potential spoilage by following a few food safety guidelines.

Make the meat case your last stop before leaving the grocery store or butcher shop. Go home directly afterward. This will limit the amount of time that the ground beef spends at room temperature. You might also consider keeping a cooler with a cold pack in the car when shopping, especially in hot weather.

Check the expiration date before every purchase.

Make sure the visible portion of the beef is bright red and that the packaging is in good condition.

Refrigerate or freeze the ground beef immediately after returning home.

Keep the refrigerator below 40 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.

Store raw ground beef on the lowest shelf of the fridge to keep the juices from dripping onto other ingredients.

Don’t allow raw meat to come in contact with any other food products.

Thoroughly wash all utensils that have been used to prepare raw ground beef.

Final Thoughts

It’s disappointing to throw away meat before you’ve had a chance to cook it, but in this case, it’s the wisest course of action. It’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to raw meat products. Otherwise, you might not be healthy enough to enjoy your next cookout.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


1 thought on “Raw Ground Beef Left Out Overnight: Now What Do I Do?”

  1. There is a big difference between storing meat at 45 degrees and 140 degrees. I think people are looking for more of a scale of time rather than a broad statement from USDA that meat is unsafe between 40+ and 140 degrees.


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