A consumer guide to safe handling and preparation of ground meat and ground poultry | SoundVision.com

A consumer guide to safe handling and preparation of ground meat and ground poultry


Ground Meat and ground poultry are more perishable than most foods. In the danger zone between 40 deg and 140 deg F, bacteria can multiply rapidly. Since you can't see, smell or taste bacteria, keep the products cold to keep them safe.

Safe Handling

  • Choose ground meat packages that are cold and tightly wrapped. The meat surface exposed to air will be red; interior of fresh meat will be dark.
  • Put refrigerated and frozen foods in you grocery cart last and make the grocery store your last stop before home.
  • Pack perishables in an ice chest if it will take you more than an hour to get home.
  • Place ground meat and ground poultry in the refrigerator or freezer immediately.
  • Defrost frozen ground meats in the refrigerator - never at room temperature. If microwave defrosting, cook immediately.

Safe Storage

  • Set your refrigerator at 40 deg F or colder and your freezer at 0 deg F or colder.
  • Keep uncooked ground meat and ground poultry in the refrigerator, cook or freeze within 1 to 2 days.
  • Use or freeze cooked meat and poultry stored in the refrigerator within 3 to 4 days.
  • For best quality, store frozen raw ground meats no longer than 3 to 4 months; cooked meats, 2 to 3 months.


Keep everything clean--hands, utensils, counters, cutting boards and sinks. That way, your food will stay as safe as possible.

  • Always wash hands thoroughly in hot soapy water before preparing foods and after handling raw meat.
  • Don't let raw meat or poultry juices touch ready-to-eat foods either in the refrigerator or during preparation.
  • Don't put cooked foods on the same plate that held raw or poultry.
  • Wash utensils that have touched raw meat with hot, soapy water before using them for cooked meats.
  • Wash counters, cutting boards and other surfaces raw meats have touched. And don't forget to keep the inside of your refrigerator clean.


Cooking kills harmful bacteria. Be sure ground meat and ground poultry are cooked thoroughly.

(See updated information on cooking ground beef.)

Cook it safely

  • The center of patties and meat loaf should not be pink and the juices should run clear.
  • Crumbled ground meats should be cooked until no pink color remains.
  • Ground meat patties and loaves are safe when they reach 160xF in the center; ground poultry patties and loaves, 165xF.

Cook it evenly

  • During broiling, grilling, or cooking on the stove, turn meats over at least once.
  • When baking, set oven no lower than 325 deg F.
  • If microwaving, cover meats. Midway through cooking, turn patties over and rotate the dish, rotate a meat loaf; and stir ground meats once or twice. Let microwaved meats stand to complete cooking process.

After cooking, refrigerate leftovers immediately. Separate into small portions for fast cooling.

To reheat all leftovers, cover and heat to 165 deg F or until hot and steaming throughout.

Cold storage times for Ground Meat and Ground Poultry

Refrigerator (40 F or below) Product Days Uncooked ground meat and ground poultry (bulk or patties) 1 to 2 days Cooked ground meat and ground poultry (hamburgers, meat loaf and dishes containing ground meats) 3 to 4 days Freezer (0 F or below) Product Months Uncooked ground meat and ground poultry (bulk or patties) 3 to 4 months Cooked ground meat and ground poultry (hamburgers, meat loaf and dishes containing ground meats) 2 to 3 months
Internal Temperatures for safe cooking Product Temperature Uncooked ground meat 160 F Uncooked ground poultry 165 F All cooked leftovers, reheated 165 F

Bacteria are part of our environment. Where there is food there may be bacteria. Proper food handling and cooking is the best way to prevent foodborne illness. Generally most at risk for developing foodborne illness are children, the elderly and those who have chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems.

For more information about the safe handling and preparation of ground meat and ground poultry, call USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline toll-free at: 1-800-535-4555 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday or contact your local Cooperative Extension Service Office.


Photo Attribution:  "A Meat Mincer" by FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands - My New Porkert #5 Meat Mincer. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_Meat_Mincer.jpg#mediaviewer/File:A_Meat_Mincer.jpg

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