Food & Recipes

How to Tell If Ground Beef Has Gone Bad — And 2 Easy Tips for Storing It Correctly

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From meatballs in hearty tomato sauce to juicy burgers cooked in my cast-iron skillet, I can do culinary wonders with a pound of ground beef. There have been times when I found a few gray spots on the meat after buying, and I’ve let it sit in my fridge for a few days to the point where I wasn’t entirely sure if I could cook with it. Thankfully, there are a few simple ways to tell if ground beef is bad!

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How do I know if my ground beef is bad?

When shopping for ground beef, it’s safe to assume that we all look for the meat to have a bright red color. Although it might be red at first glance, when you get home and take it out of the package you might find it has some gray areas. And if you’re like me, you automatically take it as a sign that the meat is bad.

However, the USDA says this graying effect is caused by oxygen from the air not being able to react to the meat’s red pigment, which is called oxymyoglobin. The USDA adds that it’s common to see pre-packaged ground beef where the outside of the meat is red, while the interior has a grayish-brown color. This is a result of the inside meat not coming into contact with oxygen, which would normally sustain the meat’s naturally red pigment. Overall, ground beef that smells normal and is red on the outside but a bit grayer on the inside is safe to eat.

On the flip side, if the meat is completely gray or brown all over then that’s a clear sign that it’s spoiled and shouldn’t be consumed. Which brings us to our next topic: After choosing the right package of ground beef, how long should you have to cook it before it goes bad in the fridge or freezer?

How long can raw ground beef be stored in the fridge or freezer?

Prepackaged ground beef will likely come with a “sell by” date on the package, which indicates when the meat’s quality will start declining. To stay on the safe side, follow the USDA’s recommendation of storing the beef at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below in its original packaging and using it within one to two days after purchasing. 

You can also preserve meat freshness by securely wrapping it in a plastic bag or aluminum foil and storing in the freezer for up to four months. Otherwise, not storing ground beef correctly will cause it to have a strange odor, a dull color, and a “tacky” texture (yuck!). 

Thanks to these easy tips, shopping for the freshest ground beef and storing it should be a breeze. For me, it’s been a real lifesaver because beef is one of the most versatile meats, and I enjoy cooking a variety of dishes with it. I’m looking forward to adding plenty more mouthwatering ground beef recipes to my weeknight dinner roster!

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