Handling Beef Safely

The protein in meat is an important nutrient in your diet, but it can also be an ideal environment for harmful bacteria. Here's how to keep bacteria at bay and your
family safe
Article Photo
Refrigerate or freeze your beef as soon as possible after purchasing.

At the Store

The key to safe and delicious beef is buying it fresh (or frozen-fresh), free of preservatives and additives, then getting it home quickly.

  • Buy your meat last. If your trip home takes longer than 30 minutes, bring a cooler to keep the meat cool.
  • Separate raw meat from ready-to-eat foods in your shopping cart. Consider placing raw foods inside plastic bags in your shopping cart to keep the juices contained.

When You Get Home

  • Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before and after handling raw meat.
  • Sanitize kitchen countertops that come into contact with raw meat. One teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach per quart of clean water will sanitize surfaces. Leave the solution on the surface for about 10 minutes to be effective.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with soap and hot water after contact with raw meat.
  • Refrigerate or freeze your beef as soon as possible after purchasing. Prevent raw meat juices from dripping onto other foods by placing raw foods in sealed containers or sealable plastic bags.
  • Use refrigerated meat within a safe time limit. Ground beef should be cooked within one to two days, roasts and steaks three to five days. Check your refrigerator temperature to be certain it's within safe ranges for meat storage. When in doubt, freeze any beef you aren't going to cook within a day.
  • Freeze beef in its original transparent wrap for up to two weeks. For longer storage, wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer paper, and then place in plastic freezer bags. Remove as much air as possible.
  • Label each package with the date, name of beef cut and weight or number of servings. Practice the FIFO inventory system: first in, first out.

Storage Guidelines for Maximum Quality

Beef Cut Refrigerator
(35°F to 40°F)
(0°F or below)
Fresh Beef
Steaks, Roasts 3 to 4 days 6 to 12 months
Beef for Stew, Kabobs or Stir-Fry 2 to 3 days 6 to 12 months
Ground Beef 1 to 2 days 3 to 4 months
Cured/Smoked/Ready-to-Serve Beef
All 1 week 2 weeks
Fresh Beef
Corned Beef, ready-to-cook 1 week 2 weeks
Frankfurters, Deli Meats 3 to 5 days 1 to 2 months
Sausage, smoked 1 week Not recommended
Sausage, dry and semi-dry, unsliced 2 to 3 days Not recommended


Defrosting Beef 

  • Always defrost beef in the refrigerator, never at room temperature.
  • Place the frozen package on a plate or tray to catch any juices. Plan defrosting time according to the chart.
  • For a quicker defrost time, flatten ground beef or make it into patties before freezing.
  • If you need to speed up defrost time, use a microwave oven, but you must finish cooking it immediately.
Beef Cut Thickness Approximate Refrigeration Time
(35°F to 40°F)
Fresh Beef
Steaks 1/2 to 3/4 inch 12 hours
Ground Beef
Beef for Stew, Kabobs or Stir-Fry
1 to 1-1/2 inches 24 hours
Small Roasts
Thin Pot Roasts
Varies 3 to 5 hours per pound
Large Roasts
Thick Pot Roasts
Varies 4 to 7 hours per pound


Before You Cook: S-E-P-A-R-A-T-E

Improper handling of raw meat and poultry can set the stage for cross-contamination — the spread of bacteria from foods, hands, utensils and food preparation surfaces to another food. Here's how to stop it.

  • If possible, use one cutting board for raw meat and another for fresh fruits and vegetables. If two cutting boards aren't available, prepare fruits and vegetables first, and put them safely out of the way. Wash the cutting board thoroughly with soap and hot water. Then, prepare the raw meat. Follow by washing the cutting board again.
  • Don't reuse marinades on cooked foods unless you boil them first. Marinades used on raw meat can contain harmful bacteria.
  • Never taste uncooked marinade or sauce that was used to marinate raw meat.
  • Place cooked food on a clean plate for serving. If cooked food is placed on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat, bacteria from the raw food could contaminate the cooked food.

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Source: Beef, It's What's for Dinner