Change your mind about using that thawed package of ground beef? Find out if it can be refrozen.
Ground beef on a designed background
Credit: Adobe Stock / Coprid

Keeping a package of ground beef in the freezer is an easy way to ensure you always have a healthy, versatile protein on hand. While using frozen ground beef requires some forethought (after all, it needs time to defrost), what happens when dinner plans change and you no longer need the ground beef? The last thing you want is to throw out a perfectly good protein. So, can you refreeze thawed ground beef? Read on to find out. Plus, learn how to freeze ground beef properly.

Can You Refreeze Ground Beef?

Short answer: Yes and no. Long answer: You can refreeze ground beef, but it depends on how it was thawed. There are three main ways to thaw meat safely, including in cold water, in the microwave and in the fridge. While the first two methods are safe and acceptable, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends thawing ground beef in the fridge, as it is important to keep the ground beef cold as it defrosts to prevent bacterial growth.

Ground beef that has been thawed in the fridge is safe to refreeze as is. The raw meat should be refrozen within two days of it being thawed. To freeze ground beef, wrap the package in plastic wrap, aluminum foil or freezer paper, or place in a freezer-safe bag, before freezing to minimize the risk of freezer burn. Be sure to label and date the package so you can keep track of the contents. If you've already opened the package, place the ground beef in an airtight, freezer-safe bag.

If the ground beef has been thawed in the microwave, it must be cooked first before it is refrozen. As the USDA explains, ground beef that's been thawed in the microwave may begin to cook in certain areas. The product then needs to be fully cooked before it is refrozen to decrease the risk of harmful bacterial growth. Cook ground beef to a temperature of 160℉. 

Similarly, ground beef that has been thawed in cold water also must be cooked first before it is refrozen. When defrosting with this method, it's tough to ensure that the product has remained consistently cold throughout the thawing period (to help maintain a cold temperature, change the water every 30 minutes). Ground beef is susceptible to bacteria growth, but especially so when temperatures are in between 40 and 140℉, also known as the "Danger Zone." Fully cooking the meat will thoroughly kill any bacteria like E. coli.

Once the meat has been fully cooked, it can be refrozen. Transfer the cooked meat to an airtight, freezer-safe container or bag, and label and date before freezing. Plan to use the meat within two to three months for the best quality.

Bottom Line

You can refreeze ground beef, but it depends on how it has been thawed. Ground beef thawed in the fridge can be refrozen in its raw state, but ground beef thawed in the microwave or in cold water must be cooked first before heading back to the freezer. For more on ground beef, learn if it's safe to eat ground beef that's turned gray and how long ground beef can stay in the fridge.