Ground beef is a versatile and inexpensive source of iron-rich protein for many Canadian families and one of the most popular choices in homemade meals. This familiar and traditional staple is easy and convenient to buy and available year-round in supermarkets across the country.
Here are 6 tips for buying and storing ground beef:
Choose your ground meat based on recipe requirements or personal preference. All ground meat is labeled Extra Lean, Lean, Medium or Regular in accordance with guidelines set out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). These descriptors represent the maximum amount of fat in the package’s contents. Whether beef, pork, chicken, turkey or veal, all packages labelled “Lean” have the same maximum fat content (17%). Read more about the different types of ground beef.
Don’t worry about the colour (Unless it’s green – despite what Dr. Seuss would have you believe, green meat is never edible.) The colour of ground beef is most often related to oxidization and is not a reliable indicator of freshness. Ground beef starts out a deep purple colour that gradually turns cherry red as it is exposed to oxygen. The colour can change back to purple in certain packaging where oxygen is removed, but most often the red colour will take on a slightly brown tinge.
Check the Best Before Date. The Best Before date is the best way to know if your fresh beef needs to be used or frozen right away. Check the date before you take it home so you know if it will still be good for Taco Tuesday. If there is no Best Before Date there will be a “Packaged On” date, or, if wrapped fresh from your butcher’s counter, use or freeze within one day of purchase.
Pick your packaging. Ground beef is available in a variety of packaging that can extend the shelf life and improve storability. If you’re lucky enough to have options, here’s how you choose the right one for your needs:
- Overwrapped packaging is the most traditional method, where the beef is plastic wrapped to a styrofoam tray. This form of packaging allows small amounts of air to pass through the plastic resulting in the most perishable method of wrapping. Use overwrapped beef by the Best Before Date or freeze by adding a second layer of plastic or putting it in a zip-top bag and forcing the air out.
- Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) is when the air around the beef is modified with C02 to prevent bacterial growth and an airtight seal is created, increasing the shelf life. It is also less messy to open and easily stackable in the fridge. Don’t freeze ground beef in MAP containers because it will freezer burn. Transfer meat to a plastic bag first.
- Tube packaging is great if you plan on stocking your freezer. The heavy plastic wrapping keeps air away from the meat, preventing oxidization and freezer burn. The meat might have a purplish tinge when you open it but it will quickly turn red.
- Vacuum packaging removes all air from the wrapping allowing the beef to stay fresh the longest. This leak-proof method of wrapping is also freezer ready.
Store ground beef in a fridge or freezer within 1 to 2 hours after purchase. Fresh ground beef can be kept in a 4˚C (39˚F) refrigerator up to it’s Best Before Date but is best if used within one day of purchase. Keep it in a container on the bottom shelf to avoid contaminating other food with juices from the raw meat. Cooked ground beef can be stored in the fridge for up to three days.
You can store raw or cooked ground beef in a -18˚C (64˚F) freezer for 2 to 3 months. Thaw frozen beef for 12 to 15 hours per pound (500 g) in the fridge or in a microwave. However, if you’re using the microwave, cook the beef immediately after thawing.
Cook it fresh or freeze for later. Like most foods, ground beef is best when cooked from fresh and by its Best Before Date. If opening a package, use the meat within a day or toss in the freezer. When buying ground beef in bulk, wrap it in two layers of plastic wrap, seal it in a zip-top bag, or pull out your vacuum sealer before popping it in the freezer for a rainy-day lasagna or quicky spaghetti sauce. Here’s 5 easy dinner recipes using frozen cooked ground beef.