Have you ever wondered how long ground beef might last past the dates on the package? We’re here to share information about the dates themselves that might surprise you.
When you’re through reading, you should know how long you can safely store beef in the fridge. That’s a useful skill to acquire, no matter what the packages say.
How Long Is Ground Beef Good For After Sell By Date?
“Sell-by” and “best by” dates are in place to remind store employees to pull a product from the shelf after a certain amount of time. The expiration of these dates doesn’t automatically translate into spoilage, but you’ll want to pay close attention to ensure freshness. Ground beef should keep for up to 3 days after its sell by date.
About Product Dating
Did you know that there are no strict federal regulations requiring that products be dated for quality purposes? Any dates you see on the packages are put in place as a reminder for retailers.
When a store employee sees that a sell-by or a best by date is either approaching or gone by, they know that they should take that product off the shelf. This doesn’t mean the product is bad, only that it might have gone downhill in terms of quality.
Depending on the location, the retailer might make use of the meat even after the sell-by date has passed. As long as the product is still fresh, they can use it in recipes or take it home themselves.
In short, these dates are meant to serve as guidelines. Meat that’s gone past its sell-by date isn’t necessarily unsafe to eat. There are other ways of testing the meat for spoilage. We’ll get into those in a later section.
How Long Can You Store Ground Beef in the Fridge?
When it’s stored properly, ground beef should keep in the fridge for 1 to 2 days. That’s not a very long shelf life—it’s better to cook the meat the day you bring it home.
Whole muscle cuts like steaks and beef roasts will keep longer than ground beef. That’s because grinding the meat exposes more of the surface area to the air, inviting bacteria to come and set up camp.
If you’re not going to use the ground beef within 2 days, either cook it off or freeze it. Once it’s frozen, it will keep indefinitely, though the texture might start to suffer if it’s exposed to subzero temperatures for longer than a few months.
Be aware that the thawed meat will only keep for a day or two, depending on how long you kept it in the fridge before freezing it. Try not to thaw the beef until you’re certain that it’s going to be on the menu either that day or the next.
How Long is Ground Beef Good For After Sell By Date?
Since the sell-by date doesn’t necessarily tell you when the meat will go bad, you’ll need to use your best judgement. In general, however, it might still be fresh for up to 3 days after this date has gone by.
Some retailers might try to make things easier for you by adding a “use by” date as well. Again, this date will serve as a useful guideline, but when it comes to determining freshness, there’s no substitute for your own senses.
How Long Is Ground Beef Good For After Cooking?
There’s a reason why we recommend cooking off ground beef even if you don’t plan on eating it that day: It will keep longer after it’s cooked.
Once the ground beef is cooked off, it should be good for 3 to 4 days. You can use it in a multitude of recipes, especially if you stick to a simple seasoning blend.
Remember that cooking the ground beef won’t salvage it if it’s already turned the corner. High temperatures destroy certain pathogens, but spoilage bacteria is heat-resistant. Once the meat has spoiled, there’s no way to save it.
You can freeze cooked ground beef as well. Bear in mind that the cooking process causes the meat to expel moisture, so it will dry out even faster in the freezer. Thaw and reheat any cooked leftovers within 2 months.
Again, the freezing process will only halt bacterial growth—it won’t reset the clock to make the beef 100 percent fresh again. If the meat was already in the fridge for a few days before you froze it, consume the reheated leftovers right away.
How To Tell if Ground Beef is Bad
When meat has gone bad, it’s generally pretty easy to tell. Sometimes, though, you might have to inspect it closely before you recognize the signs. Here are some red flags to watch out for.
The next time you buy a package of fresh ground beef, give it a good sniff. Do you smell anything? The answer should be no—or at least, you shouldn’t detect any strong odors.
Once the meat spoils, though, the bacteria begin to exhibit funky odors. The meat itself will also start to smell foul as it reacts to the bacteria’s presence. If you notice a sour or overly sweet scent, or the odor of rotten eggs, get rid of the meat.
These rules apply whether the meat is cooked or raw. We’ve found that a sweet scent is more prevalent in cooked ground beef that’s gone bad, while raw meat is more likely to have a sour or eggy odor once it’s spoiled.
After opening the package and performing the smell test, grab a small handful of the beef. It should feel firm, yet slightly moist and sticky. An overly tacky or slimy texture indicates that the meat has been around too long and should be thrown out.
When raw ground beef is fresh, it’s pink or red, with white flecks of fat running through it. After it’s cooked, it should be brown in color, though a few hints of pink may remain.
Raw ground beef that’s turned brown might still be safe to eat if it still smells and feels fine. The color change could be due to a lack of oxygen. But if the scent and texture are off, it’s better to discard it.
Ditto if the meat is more gray than brown, or if you notice any patches of mold on the surface.
Mold can be green, gray, white, or blue, and it may have a fuzzy appearance. The only positive thing about these signs is that they leave no room for doubt.
Since cooked ground beef is already mostly brown, you should rely more on the smell and texture to tell you whether or not it’s gone bad. But obviously, if you notice any indication that mold might be present, the beef has been around for far too long.
Though you should never rely on the sell-by date alone, checking the dates on the package can help you decide whether the ground beef might still be good.
Pay close attention if more than 3 days have passed since the sell-by date, and don’t ignore your instincts. When spoilage bacteria start to take over, it’s not difficult to recognize the signs.