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Food Safety for Hamburgers and Tailgating

Posted by Diane Van, Food Safety Education Staff Deputy Director, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service in Health and Safety
Feb 21, 2017

In anticipation of the beginning of football and tailgating season, I have put together  some of the most frequently asked questions that USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline receives about hamburgers and food safety. Whether you’re grilling burgers at home or outside the stadium, here’s what you need to know:

Do you have guidelines for buying ground beef or hamburgers?  What's the best way to handle them?

  • Choose a package that is not torn and feels cold. If possible, put it in a plastic bag so leaking juices won't drip on other foods.
  • Make ground beef one of the last items to go into your shopping cart. Be sure to separate raw meat from ready-cooked items in your cart.
  • Have the cashier bag raw meat separately from other items and plan to drive directly home. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables.

How should I store ground beef at home?

Refrigerate or freeze ground beef as soon as possible after purchasing. This preserves freshness and slows growth of bacteria. It can be refrigerated or frozen in its original packaging if the meat will be used soon.

  • If refrigerated, keep at 40 °F or below and use within 1 or 2 days.
  • For longer freezer storage, wrap in heavy duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil, freezer paper, or plastic bags made for freezing. Ground beef is safe indefinitely if kept frozen at 0 °F, but will lose quality over time. It is best if used within 4 months.
  • Never leave ground beef or any perishable food out at room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour at 90 °F and above).

Is It Done Yet?  How can I tell when my burgers are safely cooked?

Hamburgers should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present. Use a food thermometer to be sure they have reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 °F.  If you’re cooking turkey burgers, they should be cooked to 165 °F.

  • NEVER partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.
  • Keep Hot Food Hot! After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served — at 140 °F or warmer. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook.  If you’re at home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 °F, in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or on a warming tray.

I worry about my father-in-law forgetting to take a clean plate to the grill for cooked burger.  Is it safe to use the same plate for raw and cooked burgers?

No. To prevent foodborne illness, don't use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked hamburgers. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food. You can either use a clean plate for the cooked burgers or wash the one that held the raw ones.

Can I refrigerate or freeze leftover cooked hamburgers?

Yes, if ground beef is refrigerated promptly after cooking (within 2 hours; 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 °F), it can be safely refrigerated for about 3 or 4 days. If frozen, it should keep its quality for about 4 months.

For more information on the safe preparation and handling of ground beef and hamburgers, check out these fact sheets:

Beef...from Farm to Table

Ground Beef and Food Safety

Tailgating Food Safety Q & A

Is It Done Yet?

If you have any other questions about tailgating, ground beef, or hamburger, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at

Category/Topic: Health and Safety

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Jun 20, 2018

I will bake 60 hamburgers in oven this Friday. Put in fridge overnight for Saturday bbq. Can I store hamburgers with beef broth in fridge until party. Thank you.

Ben Weaver
Jun 21, 2018

@Herbert - You may safely do this, however there are a few things you need to do first:

  1. Cook the burgers thoroughly, making sure they reach 160°F as measured by a food thermometer.
  2. Since you won’t be using these right away & you’re making a large quantity divide them into shallow containers & refrigerate promptly. They need to cool rapidly. And,
  3. If planning to reheat, ensure they reach 165°F before serving as measured by a food thermometer.

For additional food safety advice please email or chat live with us at We’ll be happy to assist further.

Feb 19, 2019

I left out turkey burgers overnight by accident. I got up early this morning and put it in the fridge. Is it safe to eat?

Ben Weaver
Feb 21, 2019

@rhemajc101 - we're sorry to tell you that it is not safe to use this product. Just two hours at room temperature is enough time for food poisoning bacteria to reach dangerous levels. Plus, there are some bacteria that, if allowed to multiply, produce toxins that cannot be killed by cooking.

Since your food was out overnight, you should not use it.

Neal Lucas
Aug 06, 2019

Is it safe to cook burgers in the plastic it comes with in a oven. When i say safe i mean for people to eat it like that.

Ben Weaver
Aug 12, 2019

@Neal Lucas - thank you for your comment. We do not recommend to cook burgers in the packaging it comes in. Although this package is food safe, most of these plastic packages are not designed to sustain high temperature like oven temperatures. It’s best to remove them first. We hope this helps!

Sep 02, 2019

I understand beef is safe to hold at 200°F but I would like to know the maximum number of hours it should be held. Time matters as well as temperature.

Ben Weaver
Sep 04, 2019

@Jeni - thank you for your comment. As long as the product is held at a safe temperature, it is safe. There is no maximum number of hours. The longer it is held at this temperature however, it’ll begin to dry out and lose quality and flavor.

Bob C.
Jul 24, 2021

Hello, I’m writing to find out how long should somebody let their Hamburgers and Hot Dogs cool before putting them in the refrigerator? My family will cook 5-8 burgers and a pack of Hot Dogs for the next day but I’m curious if the food should get room temperature before refrigerating or if they should be cooked and put in the refrigerator right away? Thank you for your help.

Ben Weaver
Jul 28, 2021

@Bob C. - thank you for your comment. A large cut of meat or whole poultry should be divided into smaller pieces and wrapped separately or placed in shallow containers before refrigerating. Food should not be at room temperature for more than two hours. Shallow containers or small amounts of hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator or rapidly chilled in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating. Cover foods to retain moisture and prevent them from picking up odors from other foods.