How Long Does It Take for Ground Beef to Go Bad Unrefrigerated?


Ground beef is one of those versatile food products that can be cooked up and served in a variety of different ways. Despite the upsides, ground beef does have a big downside. Because of the way it is processed, ground beef is highly perishable. This means that keeping it outside of refrigeration for too long causes it to go bad. Careful attention to handling reduces risk of illnesses associated with bacteria in meat.

Temperature Matters

  • Temperature plays a role in how long ground beef keeps outside the cool confines of the refrigerator. Ideal temperatures inside the refrigerator are 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below. Ground beef exposed to temperatures higher than the ideal, begins to deteriorate rapidly. After two hours, it is unsafe to eat and must be thrown away. Exposed to 90 F temperatures or higher, ground beef only keeps for 1 hour before it needs to be discarded..


  • Bacteria is naturally found on beef. Grinding it up, spreads the bacteria throughout, making it more perishable than other meats. The bacteria that causes foodborne illness thrives in temperatures above 40 F, making unrefrigerated ground beef the perfect environment for growth. The longer the ground beef stands at these temperatures, the more the bacteria multiplies. Eventually, the amount of bacteria becomes unsafe, making you sick if you eat the ground beef.

Proper Storage

  • If you are unable to cook raw ground beef, or eat ground beef that has already been cooked before bacteria renders it unsafe for consumption, place it in the refrigerator where it will keep for two days if it’s raw and up to four days once cooked. For long-term storage, pop the ground beef in the freezer, which halts the growth of bacteria, keeping the ground beef safe to eat indefinitely.

Wrap it Up

  • Refrigerate ground beef in its original store packaging as soon as possible after purchasing. If available, slide the package of ground beef into a plastic bag to protect other items in your refrigerator from blood that may drip from the package. Wrap cooked ground beef tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. A plastic container with tight fitting lid also works to keep the ground beef fresh during refrigeration.

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