how do i know when ground beef is bad

To determine if your ground beef if spoiled, use your senses. Touch the ground beef. If it’s slimy, that’s not normal. Smell and visually examine at your ground beef, and if it’s brown or an off odor, those could be signs that your ground beef is spoiled.

It’s 6 p.m., your tummy’s growling, and you still don’t know what to make for dinner. And then, the light dawns: Somewhere in the chaos of the refrigerator, there lurks a pound of raw ground beef.

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Sure, it’s definitely been more than a week since you bought it. And it’s starting to look a little … different. But is it still safe to eat?

We talked with registered dietitian Lillian Craggs-Dino, DHA, RDN, LD, to find the answers to these meaty questions, and many more.

What will bad ground beef smell like?

Spoiled ground beef will have a pungent, putrid smell. Ground beef that is safe to eat typically has little to no perceptible smell.

How to tell if your ground beef’s gone bad

In the whole, wide universe of things to eat, ground beef holds a special place.

Basically, because we eat a lot of it. In fact, data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicates that in 2020, the world ate more than 130 billion pounds of beef. In the United States, ground beef makes up more than half of the beef consumed in the country. In 2017, for instance, Americans ate, on average, a whopping 54.5 pounds of ground beef in dishes like burgers, tacos, meatballs, chili and other tasty meals.

But at the same time, its very nature creates substantial health risks. The process of grinding up beef creates more surface area, which means more places for microorganisms to hide. As a result, ground beef can go bad quickly — more so than a steak or other larger cuts of meat.

“Ground beef is a particular concern,” notes Dr. Craggs-Dino, “because its spoilage isn’t always as obvious as other products. If you’re looking at something that has fuzzy mold sprouting on it, you are probably going to think, ‘Oh, I’m not eating that.’ But ground beef can be a little trickier. It can actually be starting to spoil, and you might not notice anything.”

Two types of microorganisms can take up residency in ground beef. The first kind, spoilage bacteria, can cause the meat to lose quality and develop a bad odor and taste, but they generally aren’t harmful to eat. Pathogenic bacteria, on the other hand, can’t be seen or smelled, but they are dangerous and can lead to food poisoning.

To make things even more complicated, if spoilage bacteria are present, their pathogenic buddies are likely to be close behind. So, even if spoilage bacteria won’t make you sick, their presence is a sign that bad actors like E. coli, Salmonella or Campylobacter are there as well.

Luckily, there are often signs that spoilage has occurred. Keep them in mind when you examine a package of ground meat:

“Outside, ground beef should look nice and pink,” says Dr. Craggs-Dino. “Sometimes, the inside may look a little brown, and that’s OK, too. But if it’s starting to turn a funky gray — inside or out — then you know something is a little off. Your food could already be spoiled by that point.”

“If you open the package and the meat feels or looks slimy, that’s a problem,” states Dr. Craggs-Dino. “Fresh ground beef should be a little firm to the touch and crumbly. But if it’s sticky and looks wet, that’s not so good. I know it sounds kind of gross. But hopefully, a person would see that and get turned off.”

The smell of fresh ground beef is barely noticeable. But it’s a different story if the meat has gone bad, says Dr. Craggs-Dino. “You open the package and it just doesn’t smell right. If it smells rancid, or tangy, or just plain putrid, that’s a sign of spoiled meat.”

The expiration date printed on the label is another important clue to your meat’s safety. Sometimes called the “best before” date, the expiration date tells you when the food is likely to start going bad. The guidance here is simple. “Don’t eat food past the expiration date,” advises Dr. Craggs-Dino. “If you aren’t going to be able to use it by that date, freeze it. Your ground beef will keep in the freezer for about four months.”

And don’t confuse the expiration date with the sell-by date, she cautions. “The sell-by date is a guideline for the retailer, saying, ‘Look, we can keep this meat on the shelf until this day.’ Assuming you buy it, bring it home and put it right into the refrigerator, you can still eat the ground beef for two days after the sell-by date. If you go past that, though, you are putting yourself at risk.”

Can ground beef smell a little but not expired?

All ground beef has a slight aroma of iron. Ground beef nearing its expiration date may have a slightly more noticeable smell but is still safe to eat. However, if a product has a noticeable, pungent smell, it is most likely spoiled and should be discarded.

To determine if your ground beef if spoiled, use your senses. Touch the ground beef. If it’s slimy, that’s not normal. Smell and visually examine at your ground beef, and if it’s brown or an off odor, those could be signs that your ground beef is spoiled.


How can you tell if ground beef has gone bad?

Nevertheless, you should throw away ground beef if it has turned either brown or gray on the outside, as this indicates that it’s beginning to rot. Additionally, mold can spoil cooked ground beef, so you should toss your leftovers if you notice any fuzzy blue, grey, or green spots.

Is ground beef OK if it turns brown?

This darkening is due to oxidation, the chemical changes in myoglobin due to the oxygen content. This is a normal change during refrigerator storage. Beef that has turned brown during extended storage may be spoiled, have an off-odor, and be tacky to the touch and should not be used.

How do you know if beef is bad before cooking?

Rotten meat will be discolored and might have a greenish or brownish tint. You can also check for slime on the surface of the steak. If the texture is slimy, it is most likely foul.

What does ground beef smell like?

It should smell like iron if it’s fresh—and sometimes its natural smell is so faint, you don’t even notice it—but the putrid smell of rotting meat is impossible to miss. Don’t ignore off-putting smells, and throw out any meat that’s stinking up your refrigerator.

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