How Long Can Ground Beef Sit Out? A Study in Safety

September 8, 2022

On average, raw and cooked ground beef should be kept out for no more than two hours on a cold day and 1 hour on a warm day.

As a professional chef, I have been thoroughly trained in food safety so I can answer all your questions about how long can ground beef sit out for.

In this post I will tackle how long cooked and raw ground beef be left out and provide you with top safety tips. Let's begin!

How Long Can Ground Beef Sit Out

How Long Can Raw Ground Beef Be Left on the Counter?

According to the USDA, you can leave ground beef out for 2 hours at room temperature.

If the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, however, then you can only leave raw ground beef for 1 hour.

The reason for this is due to something known as the Danger Zone. The danger zone is a temperature range between 40 and 140 °F.

Within this range, bacteria can multiply at a faster rate. So, even if your ground meat is only left out for a short period of time at these temperatures, you can still get sick from it.

ground meat in a bowl

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How Long Can Cooked Ground Beef Sit Out?

The same rules apply to cooked ground beef as with raw ground beef. It doesn't matter if you have just prepared the ground beef or if you have taken it out from the fridge.

Only keep the cooked ground beef on the counter for up to 2 hours. If it is a very warm day, then don't leave it out for any longer than 1 hour.

Never eat cooked ground beef that has been kept out for longer than this - it just isn't safe.

Is Ground Beef Still Good If Left Out Overnight?

If you have accidently left raw ground beef or cooked ground beef out all night long, you may be tempted to salvage it.

This is especially true if your ground beef looks and smells perfectly fine. Just because there it doesn't appear that there is anything wrong with the ground beef doesn't mean that it is safe.

Due to the high risk of contamination, it is best to err on the side of caution and toss out the meat.

Can You Cooked Ground Beef That Has Been Left Out?

Can you cook raw ground beef left out longer than 2 hours? Will this kill off any bacteria that has settled there?

This may seem like an obvious solution. After all, isn't this one of the reasons that we cook raw ground beef in the first place? To kill off pathogens?

Sure, cooking ground beef that has been left out can kill the bacteria in the meat. However, this doesn't kill the toxins produced by the pathogens. These toxins are heat resistant.

Therefore, if you eat ground beef that has been left out and then cooked, you can still get a foodborne illness.

How Long Can Ground Beef Sit Out Sealed?

Now, it is only natural to think that if your raw beef is sealed that it can be kept out for longer. After all, if the ground beef is all packed up, then airborne bacteria can't get to it.

Here's the thing, though - bacteria may have already invaded your raw ground beef.

To make ground beef, raw meat has to be put through industrial grinders. While factories do work hard to sanitize these tools, food safety isn't completely guaranteed. It is possible that some of these machines may be contaminated with disease causing agents.

When these grinders are used to grind the raw meat, the bacteria is spread throughout the entire section. This means that by the time that the raw ground beef is packaged, it may already be contaminated.

If you make matters worse by leaving it out on the counter for too long, this bacteria will have more than enough time to multiply and spread. As a result, you can get really sick from eating even ground beef that has been sealed.

And, as mentioned, cooking the meat isn't going to make it any less dangerous for you.

How to Store Raw Ground Beef Safely?

It is important to follow proper food safety guidelines from the very beginning.

Make sure to pick up the ground beef in the supermarket last off all. This way, the meat isn't sitting out at room temperature while you are shopping.

If you are shopping in a store that is far away from home or the weather is warm, then take an insulated bag with you. Once you have purchased the ground beef, make sure to place it in the bag immediately before driving home.

Once you get home, refrigerate the ground beef immediately unless you are planning on cooking it straight away. This is a habit that you should follow with all perishable food.

If you will be using the ground beef in the next couple of days, then you can leave it in its original packaging. In case you will need to store it for a while before cooking it, transfer the ground beef to an airtight container.

It is a good idea to write down the date of storage on the container. This way, you will know when you will need to use up the beef by.

cooked ground beef with peas

How to Store Cooked Ground Beef Safely?

Contrary to popular belief, you don't nee to wait until your cooked meat is completely cool before placing it in the refrigerator.

Of course, you should let it cool down a bit. Otherwise, the heat from the cooked beef will cause the surrounding temperature in the refrigerator to go down. This can cause other food to spoil as well.

On a cool day, don't leave out the cooked meat for more than two hours at a time. If it is a warm day, then place the meat in the fridge after an hour.

How to Defrost Frozen Ground Beef?

It is just as important to defrost frozen ground beef properly. The best way to thaw ground beef is to take it out of the freezer and place it in the refrigerator until it is completely defrosted.

Or, you can defrost the meat in a cold water bath. Make sure that the meat is wrapped tightly, that the water is cold, and that you empty out the water and replace the bath with fresh cold water every 30 minutes.

Wrapping It Up

Now you know just how long ground beef can be left out and still be safe to eat. Use this knowledge wisely to store raw ground beef so that you can reduce the risk of food poisoning across the board!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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