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10 Tips for Storing and Handling Ground Beef

Do any of us really have set rules for handling the ground meat we buy?  We should since ground beef and other ground meats are more perishable than other meats that we bring home.  Here are a few tips to help you safely handle ground meats to keep harmful bacteria at bay.

1.  Buy ground beef in packages that are tightly wrapped.

Packaging for ground meats should be tightly wrapped and should be cold to the touch.  If possible place your ground meat on ice for the trip home, and refrigerate your ground meats as soon as you get home.

2.  Store ground meats below 40 degrees F.

Ground meats should always be kept below 40 degrees since bacteria multiply quickly between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.

3.  Cook or freeze ground beef within 1 to 2 days.

If you know you're not going to use the meat within 2 days, freeze it immediately upon arrival at home.

4.  Frozen ground meat can be kept for up to 4 months if raw.

If the meat is cooked first then frozen, it may be kept for up to 3 months.  The meat is actually good indefinitely but the flavor of the meat declines dramatically after 3 to 4 months of being frozen.  Make sure any frozen meat you won't be using within a few weeks is wrapped well in a freezer bag or freezer wrap to protect the quality and taste of the beef.

5.  Wash your hands with warm soapy water when handling raw ground beef.

You should wash your hands both before and after handling of raw ground meats.  If you have touched raw meat, wash your hands before touching any utensils or anything else in order to avoid possible bacterial contamination.

6.  Use a plastic cutting board for raw meats.

If you need to handle the ground beef on a cutting board, use a plastic one.  Plastic is easier to clean and disinfect than wooden cutting boards.

7. Wash all utensils and surfaces that have come in contact with your raw ground beef with warm soapy water.

Do not use utensils on your raw ground beef then use them on your cooked meat without first washing the utensils.  Your raw meat could become contaminated with bacteria from the raw meat.

8. Thaw frozen ground meat in the refrigerator.

If you try to thaw your meat at room temperature, you risk letting harmful bacteria grow in the meat.

9.  Cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

An internal temperature of 160 degrees will insure that you have killed any bacteria that may have been present in your ground meat.  All ground meat looks different when it's cooked, so it's not enough to rely on color to tell you when the meat is done.  A meat thermometer is your best choice for that job.

10. Have separate platters for raw meat and cooked meat.

Don't place cooked meat on the same platters or serving dishes that you had raw meat on.  This is especially important when grilling hamburgers.  Always make sure you have a clean serving dish for your cooked ground beef.

By following the above tips, you can greatly reduce your chances of contracting a foodborne illness from your ground meat.  Just remember to keep it cold, cook it in a reasonable time frame from date of purchase, and cook it to a 160 degree internal temperature.  Keep everything clean, and don't use the same utensils and dishes for raw and cooked meats.  For more detailed information on storing and handling ground beef, you can visit the CDC or USDA websites.  They are full of information to help keep you food safe from your grocery store to your table.

Written By Danna Vach