How Long Can You Leave Ground Beef in the Freezer? A Complete Guide

Ground beef is a versatile ingredient found in many kitchens worldwide. It’s commonly used in dishes like hamburgers, meatballs, and tacos. But what happens when you buy ground beef in bulk and can’t consume it all at once? Can you store it in the freezer? If yes, for how long? In this article, we’ll answer all your questions about freezing ground beef and provide tips on how to properly store and defrost it.

How long will ground beef stay good in the freezer?

The good news is that frozen ground beef can technically last forever in a properly cooled freezer that remains at 0°F. However, the bad news is that it does have a “best by” shelf life, after which its taste declines. According to the USDA’s freezing and food safety guide, loss of moisture is a big reason why frozen ground beef loses flavor over long periods of time. Raw beef is best used within three to four months of freezing. Due to the loss of moisture in the cooking process, cooked ground beef can last two to three months in the freezer.

How to properly store ground beef in the freezer

Refrigerate or freeze ground beef as soon as possible after purchase. This preserves freshness and slows the growth of bacteria. It can be refrigerated or frozen in its original packaging if the meat will be used soon. Frozen meat can be frozen in its original store packaging for up to two months, according to U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines. If you plan to keep it longer than that, you can wrap the original packaging in heavy-duty foil or place it in a freezer bag to stop air from getting in. Be sure to label the meat with the date it was frozen, so there’s no guessing how long it’s been in there.

The USDA also notes that the faster you freeze raw beef, the better. Placing it in the freezer as soon as you get home from the grocery store will produce fresher meat when defrosted than if it is frozen closer to its expiration date or has already been cooked.

Cooked beef, on the other hand, can be refrozen within three to four days, as long as it has never been 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. But only raw meat that has stayed in the fridge or cooked meat that has only been left out for a few hours can safely be refrozen.

How to properly defrost ground beef

You should never defrost beef out on the kitchen counter. Doing so exposes the meat to harmful bacteria over a long period of time. Instead, put the frozen beef in the fridge overnight to gradually thaw (on the bottom shelf to prevent juices from leaking onto other foods). It’ll be safe to keep it in the fridge for two days after you pulled it from the freezer.

When you need to thaw your frozen meat a bit quicker, placing it in a zippered plastic bag and submerging it in cold water for one to three hours or until thawed is the way to go. If you’re in a jam and really need to speed up the process, the USDA gives the thumbs up to defrosting in the microwave. Beef defrosted in water or in the microwave needs to be cooked immediately after thawing.

In conclusion, ground beef can be stored in the freezer for an extended period, but it’s best used within four months of freezing. Proper storage and defrosting techniques help preserve its freshness and flavor. By following the tips outlined in this article, you can safely store, defrost, and consume ground beef without worry.