How Long Can Cooked Hamburger Sit Out? | Tips To Keep It Fresh Longer

Ground beef is a versatile staple in the kitchen. It’s especially popular for BBQ burgers and mini-sliders for football games in my house. But after the last family gathering, our delicious hamburger sliders were left out all night.

So when I walked into the kitchen the following day, the first question on my mind was, can we still eat the hamburgers?

In general, it’s not safe to eat ground beef in any form after it has been sitting out at room temperature for more than two hours, and this rule includes cooked hamburgers.

If the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the cooked hamburger needs refrigerating within one hour. 

Additionally, leaving undercooked hamburgers out at room temperature for more than a half-hour encourages the growth of harmful bacteria.

The USDA recommends all hamburgers reach an internal temperature of 165 before consumption, but undercooked burgers in the medium to rare range don’t reach that temperature.

Thus, hamburgers with any pink at the center, like medium-cooked burgers, need refrigerating as quickly as possible if you don’t plan to consume them in the next half hour.

Cooked Ground Beef And Room Temperature 

The USDA has pretty clear guidelines for cooked hamburgers sitting out at room temperature. A cooked hamburger should not sit out at room temperature for more than two hours.

The USDA recommends that hamburgers never sit out for more than two hours if the temperature is within the danger zone.

Hamburgers Sitting In The Danger Zone

There’s a lot of confusion behind what exactly “room temperature” means. For the most part, room temperature is any temperature around 70 degrees. But, the USDA does not recommend relying solely on room temperature as a guideline for keeping hamburgers out. 

Instead, they caution that cooked beef should not stay out of the fridge for more than two hours if the temperature is anywhere between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit is what the USDA called “The Danger Zone.” Hamburger left out in the Danger Zone can grow bacteria to dangerous levels. 

Room Temperature Shelf Life Of Cooked Ground Beef

The room temperature shelf life of cooked ground beef is relatively short. Hamburger is extremely perishable, meaning that it generally needs cooking and is consumed within three days of purchase.

Because of the perishable nature of raw and cooked hamburgers, its “room temperature”  shelf life is no more than two hours.   

You Can’t Save Hamburger Left Out All Night

Unfortunately, if a hamburger has been sitting out all night, you can’t save it. The reason is simple: hamburgers left out overnight becomes home to large quantities of bacteria.

Some common bacteria that thrive in room temperature hamburgers are salmonella and e. Coli. You probably know their names because both bacterias are common culprits of food poisoning. 

Cooked Hamburgers And The Car

If you’ve recently stopped for Mcdonald’s and accidentally left a hamburger in the car, you’re not alone. It happens. But, you shouldn’t try to save the hamburger, no matter how great it might taste. 

Consider how hot your car gets in the summer. Until you turn on the A/C, it can be a literal oven. Many cars sit at over ninety degrees after sitting out in the sun. Remember that the USDA recommends throwing out any food left out in ninety-degree heat after an hour. 

On the other hand, winter can possibly save your burger. If it’s freezing cold outside, the temperature in the car is likely below freezing. In this case, your vehicle has become a makeshift refrigerator for your burger.

Still, it’s best not to push it. If you’ve left the hamburger out for more than two hours in the cold car, toss it. It’s better not to risk food poisoning. 

Signs Of Food Poisoning To Watch For

If you’ve accidentally consumed an old burger, you may find yourself feeling unwell. If you suspect food poisoning, watch out for these symptoms:

  • Upset stomach.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Fever.
  • Diarrhea.

Signs Cooked Hamburger Is Bad

If you’re worried about whether cooked hamburger is safe to eat, run through this checklist:

Smell

If the hamburger smells sour, musty, or anything other than normal, don’t eat it.

Color

Is the hamburger grey or green? If so, it’s probably started growing mold or sat out too long. Keep in mind that hamburgers with extremely red or pink centers are more likely to hide bacteria, so if you are concerned, reheat it in the microwave to kill off bacteria. Moldy Sandwich

Texture

If the hamburger appears soggy, crumbly, or gooey, don’t eat it. These conditions point to bacterial contamination or undercooking. 

Temperature 

If you touch a hamburger and it is clammy and cold, don’t eat it. The hamburger has sat out too long and may have bacterial contamination.

Shelf Life Of Refrigerated Cooked Hamburgers

Cook hamburgers have a shelf life of three days in the refrigerator. After three days, you should throw out any cooked hamburger leftovers.

Additionally, you should reheat any refrigerated burger back to the USDA’s recommended 165 degrees before consuming it. Don’t eat hamburgers straight out of the fridge; just in case bacteria has grown, reheating will kill it off. 

Cooked Hamburger – Temperature Safety And Doneness

The USDA has pretty strong feelings about how you should cook meat, especially hamburgers and other red meats. You should always cook ground hamburgers to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid any bacterial contamination. 

Temperatures Compared To Degrees Of Doneness

If you like to order your burgers medium or rare at a restaurant, know that you aren’t eating a safe burger. The reason is simple: bacteria like e.coli and salmonella can still live in cooked hamburger until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 155 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, the USDA recommends that all mixed ground burger products reach 160 degrees or more for the greatest safety. 

  • Rare – 125 degrees Fahrenheit; lots of red at the center of the burger.
  • Medium Rare – 130 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit; some red coloring at the center.
  • Medium – 135 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit; pink colored at the center of the burger.
  • Medium Well – 140 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit; some pink at the center of the burger.
  • Well Done – 155+ degrees Fahrenheit; no pink in the burger.

In short, if you receive a burger with pink in the center, it can pose a risk to your health consuming it. That’s why restaurants usually have a disclaimer on their menu about eating any undercooked meat.

Yes, You Can Freeze Cooked Hamburgers.

According to the USDA, you can refreeze cooked hamburger meat if you freeze it within two hours of cooking the meat. If you cooked extra burgers and want to save them for later, freezing the burgers is a great way to do it.

Frozen burgers will keep between three and four months in the freezer.  

Best Methods For Freezing Cooked Hamburger

If you want to freeze cooked hamburger, you’ll want to store it properly to prevent freezer burn by using some of these methods:

1. Freezer Bags

You can store hamburgers, ground or formed into patties, in freezer-safe bags. Make sure to press out all the air from the bags for the best storage, and keep an eye out for leaks.

Double bagging the burger can help prevent leaks during defrosting. You can also find reusable freezer bags to save money.

2. Freezer-Safe Tupperware

If you have freezer-safe Tupperware containers, they work well for storing hamburger patties or cooked ground hamburgersin the freezer. Tupperware is nice because it has less risk of leaking than a freezer bag. 

Freezer-Safe Tupperwares

3. Tinfoil And Plastic Wrap

You might find it surprising that tinfoil is highly resistant to extreme cold, but it’s actually one of the best storage materials for the freezer. You’ll want to wrap the burger in plastic wrap to prevent leaks first, then wrap the whole thing in tin foil.

Tinfoil is more compact than Tupperware or bags, and it’s usually cheaper. You can use tinfoil for storing other meats in the freezer, too; find out how here!

Defrosting Frozen Hamburger Meat

How you defrost frozen hamburger meat will change its shelf life and the safety of consuming the meat. You should never defrost hamburger meat in hot water, as this method can introduce or encourage bacteria to grow in the meat. Instead, follow one of these methods:

1. Cold Water Defrost

Defrosting hamburgers in a bowl of cold water is a safe alternative to hot water defrosting. Simply place the container with the burger into a large bowl and submerge the meat in cold water.

Alternatively, you can stopper and fill the sink with cold water. If the container floats, try to keep it underwater by placing a heavy bowl on top of it.

However, keep in mind that you’ll have to change out the cold water every thirty minutes for the method to work. You can usually expect one pound of ground hamburger to defrost in one hour, but larger amounts will take anywhere from two to three hours.

2. Microwave Defrost

The USDA recognizes microwave defrosting as a safe method for defrosting meat. However, you’ll need to consult your microwave manual to determine the best settings for hamburgers.

Also, make sure that you use a microwave-safe container to place the hamburger in – tinfoil, cheap plastic containers, and saran wrap should not go into the microwave.

3. Refrigerator Defrost

If you have the time, refrigerator defrost is the safest method for defrosting cooked or raw hamburger meat. Defrosting in the fridge prevents bacteria from growing in the meat since the fridge should sit at a temperature outside the danger zone. 

You’ll want to place the hamburger in a leak-proof container, like a glass bowl, to protect against leaks when the meat defrosts. The USDA notes that most hamburgers will defrost within a day inside the fridge.

Do Not Refreeze Cooked Hamburger A Second Time

You should never refreeze cooked hamburger after it has been cooked and defrosted for the first time. Doing so can allow dangerous bacteria to survive in the meat and cause food poisoning when you consume the hamburger. Cooked Hamburger

Tips For Reheating Frozen Hamburger

Once you’ve defrosted frozen hamburger, you’ll want to ensure that you reheat the meat correctly to prevent food-borne illness from hidden bacteria. 

Hamburger Needs To Reach The Correct Internal Temperature.

Reheated hamburger needs to reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit before you consume it. The USDA recommends that all leftovers (ground hamburger or otherwise) reach this temperature before eating it. How you reheat is up to you. 

Reheat Using A Toaster Oven

To reheat a burger using a toaster oven or air fryer, set the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Your burger should reheat in three to five minutes, but make sure to check the temperature with a food thermometer and cook the meat longer if necessary until it reaches 165 degrees.

Reheat In the Microwave

The microwave is the fastest way to reheat hamburgers, as it does not require a pre-heat period like ovens or air fryers. Simply place the burger in the microwave and cook it in one-minute increments.

Turning or stirring the ground hamburger over each minute will help the meat reheat evenly. Microwaved Hamburger

Reheat In the Oven

You can use an oven to reheat ground hamburger and hamburger patties the same way you would a toaster oven. Simply heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit before placing the burger into the oven for about five minutes. 

Final Thoughts

Ground hamburger is a staple in many households. But, you have to be careful when consuming ground beef. Remember that ground hamburger needs refrigerating within two hours of cooking to avoid bacterial contamination.

Additionally, it’s essential to follow USDA guidelines on storing cooked hamburgers in the fridge – if it’s been in there for more than three days, it’s time to toss it.

If you keep those guidelines in mind, you can enjoy as many cooked hamburgers as you like without needing to worry about food poisoning. 

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