1. Food

Ground Beef Safety Tips

Food Handling Guidelines for Ground Beef Safety

By

Ground Beef Safety Tips
Photo © Danilo Alfaro

What's the best way to handle raw ground beef when I buy it?

Choose a package that feels cold and shows no signs of leakage. Enclose it in a plastic bag so that any juices that do leak out won't contaminate other items in your grocery cart.

Ground beef should be one of the last items to go into your cart, and should be kept separate from other foods. And when you check out, the clerk should pack raw meat, poultry, and fish in separate bags, not together with your other items.

Also, you should drive straight home from the store after shopping. If your drive is long, bring a cooler with ice and pack your perishables in it for the drive home.

How should raw ground beef be stored at home?

Refrigerate or freeze ground beef as soon as possible after purchase. This preserves freshness and slows growth of bacteria. Make sure your refrigerator is at 40°F or colder, and use refrigerated ground beef within 2 days.

For storing in the freezer for longer periods, wrap ground beef securely in heavy duty plastic wrap or foil. Assuming your freezer is at 0°F, ground beef stored this way should be fine for a couple of months. Make sure you mark the packages with the date you froze them so you don't forget how long they've been in there.

What is the best way to thaw ground beef?

Thaw frozen ground beef by leaving in the refrigerator overnight. Take the package you created in the step described above and place it a shallow pan, then set the pan on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator, so that any juices won't drip onto other food.

Keeping meat cold while it is defrosting is essential to prevent growth of bacteria. Once it thaws, cook it within 1 or 2 days, but don't refreeze it. Never thaw ground beef in the microwave or by leaving it out at room temperature. And while thawing under cold running water is acceptable for most frozen foods, doing so with ground beef isn't recommended.

A good general tip: Never leave ground beef or any perishable food out at room temperature for more than 1 hour.

Is it dangerous to eat raw or undercooked ground beef?

Since raw and undercooked meat can harbor dangerous bacteria, the USDA discourages eating or tasting any raw or undercooked ground beef. Meat loaf, meatballs, casseroles and hamburgers should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F as measured with an instant-read thermometer.

Are microwaved hamburgers safe?

Yes, provided they're handled and cooked properly. If you cook hamburgers in the microwave, covering them helps distribute the heat more evenly. Flip each patty midway through cooking, and rotate it, too, if your microwave doesn't have a revolving carousel. Let cooked patties stand in the microwave for a minute or two after the timer goes off, then use an instant-read thermometer to make sure their internal temperature is at least 160°F.

Is it safe to cook ground beef part way, then store it to use later?

No. Partial cooking of food won't kill pathogens, but instead allows them to multiply to the point that they can't be killed by subsequent cooking.

Can I refrigerate or freeze leftover cooked hamburgers? How should they be reheated?

If properly cooked ground beef is refrigerated within 1 hour of cooking, it can be safely refrigerated for about 3 days. If frozen, it should keep its quality for a couple of months — assuming your freezer is at 0°F.

How can I know for sure what's in my ground beef?

The best way to know for sure what's in your burgers, ground beef or other ground meats is to grind the meat yourself. Check out this illustrated tutorial on grinding your own meat at home.
  1. About.com
  2. Food
  3. Culinary Arts
  4. Culinary Arts Basics
  5. Safety & Sanitation
  6. Ground Beef Safety Tips

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.