Those of us on the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline can always tell when St. Patrick’s Day approaches. Starting in early March, we begin to receive lots of questions about corned beef: How do you prepare it? How can you tell when it’s safely cooked? How long can you store it?


While a traditional dinner of corned beef and cabbage may bring you the “luck of the Irish,” you can’t rely on good luck to ensure that your meal is food safe. Instead, follow these tips to make sure that you and your guests don’t turn green (with food poisoning!).

Package Dating and Storage Times

If you buy uncooked corned beef in a pouch with pickling juices, which has a “sell-by” date or no date, it can be stored for 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator, unopened. If you buy products with a “use-by” date, you may store it unopened in the refrigerator until that date.

An uncooked corned beef brisket may be frozen for 1 month for best quality if you drain and re-wrap it. We recommended draining the brine because salt encourages rancidity and texture changes. The flavor and texture will diminish with prolonged freezing, but the product is still safe.


Corned beef is made from one of several less tender cuts of beef like the brisket, rump or round. Therefore, it requires long, moist cooking. It can be cooked on top of the stove or in the oven, microwave, or slow cooker. The USDA does not recommend one particular cooking method as best, but we do provide cooking directions in our fact sheet, Corned Beef and Food Safety. Whatever method you use, make sure that the corned beef reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 °F or above.

Cooking Ahead

It’s safe to cook corned beef ahead of time. After cooking, cut it into several pieces for faster cooling–or slice it, if you like. Place the beef in, shallow containers and cool it in the refrigerator quickly.


Leftover corned beef should be sliced and refrigerated promptly–within 2 hours of cooking or reheating. Use cooked-ahead or leftover corned beef within 3 to 4 days or freeze 2 to 3 months.

If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at (English and Spanish).


Written by Diane Van, manager, USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, this article was initially posted on the website March 15.