A Consumer Guide to Safe Handling and Preparation of Ground Meat and Ground Poultry

Developed by: Food Marketing Institute and American Meat Institute in cooperation with National Livestock and Meat Board, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Food and Drug Administration*


Ground meat and ground poultry are more perishable than most foods. In the danger zone between 40 degrees and 140 degrees F, bacteria can multiply rapidly. Since you can't see, smell, or taste bacteria, keep ground meats 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 your 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 degrees F or colder and your freezer at 0 degrees 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 meat 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 t 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.

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 160 degrees F in the center; ground poultry patties and loaves, 165 degrees F.

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 degrees 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 degrees or until hot and steaming throughout.


Refrigerator (40 degrees F or below)
Product Days
Uncooked ground meat and ground poultry (bulk or patties) 1 to 2
Cooked ground meat and ground poultry (hamburgers, meat loaf and dishes containing ground meats). 3 to 4
Cool to 40 degrees F within 4 hours. 1 to 2

Freezer (0 degrees F or below)
Product Months
Uncooked ground meat and ground poultry (bulk or patties) 3 to 4
Cooked ground meat and ground poultry (hamburgers, meat loaf and dishes containing ground meats) 2 to 3

Product Temperature
Uncooked ground meat 160 degrees F
Uncooked ground poultry 165 degrees F
All cooked leftovers, reheated 165 degrees F

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:

10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Eastern time, Monday through Friday

For information on educational programs, please call your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.

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 food-borne illness.

Generally, most at risk for developing food-borne illness are children, the elderly, and those who have chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems.

Publication #: 458-016

Developed by Food Marketing Institute
800 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20006


American Meat Institute
Post Of lice Box 3556
Washington, DC 20007

in cooperation with

National Livestock & Meat Board
444 N. Michigan Avenue
Chicago IL 60611

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Food Safety and Inspection Service
Extension Service
14th Street & Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

Food and Drug Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More