Q How long is it safe to store ground beef in the refrigerator before freezing it? We are worried about food poisoning and so are throwing away a lot of hamburger because we don't know if it's good to eat.

A Ground beef should be used within two days of purchase. Be sure to check the "use by" information on the package label before purchase.

You can store ground beef safely in your refrigerator at 35 to 40 degrees, for one to two days. If you can't use it within that time, freeze it. It can be stored frozen for three to four months.

Here are some tips from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association for buying and storing ground beef:

• When shopping, pick up beef just before checking out. Put refrigerated beef in your cart only if it's very cold to the touch. Frozen beef should be solid as a rock. If it will take longer than 30 minutes to get your purchase home, keep your beef in a cooler. Remember to check the "sell by" date to make sure it hasn't expired before you buy.

• For beef stored in the refrigerator, be sure to follow the "use by" information on package labels. If you can't remember when a food item was placed there, throw it out. All fresh ground beef should be used within two days of purchase.

• If fresh beef will not be used before the expiration date, place it tightly wrapped in your freezer on the bottom shelf. You can freeze beef in its original transparent wrap for up to two weeks. For longer storage, wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil or place in plastic freezer bags. Remove as much air as possible. Before putting any beef in the freezer, label with the date, name of beef cut and weight or number of servings. This will help you follow the "first in, first out" rule: Use the beef with the earliest date first.

• Use a refrigerator and freezer thermometer to ensure that your refrigerator is at or below 40 degrees and your freezer is at or below 0 degrees. In the refrigerator, place raw or thawing beef in a container or on a dish that will prevent juices from dripping onto other foods.

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