Food is too expensive to be discarded simply because you forgot to cook it. Proper food safety plus proper storage equals zero food waste.
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This has happened to all of us, even when we had the best of intentions. You put a package of ground beef in the refrigerator to thaw with plans of cooking it in the next day or so. But your plans change and you wonder what to do with the now-thawed meat. Is the meat still pink or turning a little gray? Is it still fresh, can you refreeze it, or should you go ahead and cook it up? Paying attention to food safety is crucial when you're handling ground meats. Bacteria will collect on the exposed surfaces of meats, and ground meat is almost all surface area. Even more important, any bacteria that might have been present on the original cut are circulated throughout the meat once it is ground. This can give potentially harmful bacteria a substantial head start, but it doesn't mean you can't thaw and refreeze the beef.

How to Refreeze Thawed Ground Beef

According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, if you thawed your ground beef in the refrigerator and it has only been in there for a short time (three days or less), it's perfectly OK to refreeze it. Keep the meat in the original packaging, but wrap it once more in aluminum foil or a freezer safe plastic bag. Keep in mind that when you freeze, thaw, refreeze, then thaw again, the meat loses moisture at each step and you might find that the texture changes. Reserve this meat for soups and weeknight casseroles, where texture isn't as important as it is in other dishes, such as a grilled burger.

How to Freeze Cooked Ground Beef

If you have leftover cooked ground beef (maybe you went ahead and browned that pound of thawed meat) you can safely freeze it, as long as the meat is cooked completely – no pink in the middle allowed. Just as when you refreeze raw meat, the frozen, cooked ground beef may have a different consistency when thawed, so use it in soups and stews. After cooking the meat, drain off excess fat, let meat cool completely, then store in freezer safe containers for up to four months.

Three Safe Ways to Thaw Ground Beef

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes three safe methods of thawing for frozen foods. The best way to safely thaw ground beef is in the refrigerator. It is essential to keep meat (any meat, not just ground beef) cold while it is defrosting to prevent the growth of bacteria. Cook or refreeze ground beef within 1 to 3 days. If you are pressed for time, you can defrost in the microwave or in cold water. When using the microwave, cook the ground beef immediately because some areas may begin to cook during the defrosting. To thaw frozen meat in cold water, put the meat in a watertight plastic bag and submerge, changing the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately. Never refreeze raw ground meat thawed in cold water or in the microwave oven unless you cook it first.

When Refreezing Hamburger Is Unsafe

Remember: Only refreeze hamburger if you have thawed it in the refrigerator and kept it in the refrigerator. Never refreeze it if you left it out at room temperature to thaw (which you should never do anyway). Even if you thawed the meat in cold water or the microwave it is unwise to refreeze it; both methods allow time for bacteria to grow on areas of the meat that have warmed above refrigerator temperature.