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. However, there have been times when I’ve noticed gray spots on the meat after buying it, or 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, the days of asking myself, “How do you know if ground beef is bad?” are gone as I’ve picked up some expert tips for spotting signs of spoilage within the meat. Keep reading for the advice that will make sure your ground beef dishes are delicious and safe to enjoy for any meal!
Why fresh ground beef is always best
Ground beef is the quintessential protein that adds meatiness to lasagna, burgers, chili and more. And the fresher the ground beef, the better the flavor. Plus, it’s brimming with iron and calcium, key nutrients for warding off bone loss and encouraging red blood cell production to help you stay healthy. (Click through to see dramatic carnivore diet before and after photos.)
Packaged ground beef is convenient to grab for dinner later on. But if you have a few minutes to spare while at the store, it’s worth asking the meat counter to grind chunks of beef. This ensures you’re getting the freshest ground beef possible. Also, you can infuse the ground beef with extra flavor by requesting a little more fat or different cuts of meat be added to the mix.
Can you tell ground beef is spoiled just by looking at it?
Since ground beef doesn’t last long in the fridge, you’ll want to make sure it hasn’t spoiled before you’re ready to cook with it. Otherwise, your dishes will be bland and possibly contaminated with illness-causing bacteria. Luckily, all it takes is using your natural senses to determine if your ground beef is safe to consume — helping you avoid mealtime uh-ohs!
When shopping for ground beef, meat with a bright red color signals that it’s fresh and fine to eat. While this is absolutely true, there are times when you remove the meat from the package and find gray areas that weren’t visible before.
This may seem like a sign that it’s gone bad, but it’s actually safe to eat. The USDA explains that this graying effect is caused by oxygen not being able to react to a pigment in the meat called oxymyoglobin — a process needed to sustain its red color. With packaged ground beef, the inside of the meat doesn’t have contact with outside air, so it may appear gray while the exterior is bright red. Overall, as long as the meat doesn’t have an unusual smell or consistency, this red-gray color contrast doesn’t indicate spoilage.
On the other hand, if the meat is completely gray or brown all over, then that’s a clear sign that it’s spoiled. While appearance can reveal a lot about its freshness, however, it’s not the only thing to be mindful of — keeping reading for more ways to tell if ground beef has spoiled.
3 additional signs ground beef is bad
Similar to other fridge staples like dairy and fish, ground beef’s texture and smell can indicate if it’s still edible. Here, Norah Clark, chef and editor at Boyd Hampers, shares three more ways to tell if ground beef is bad.
1. The ground beef has a sour smell
While the meat is in the package, give a quick whiff. If the meat has a sour or rancid odor, that’s a big sign of spoilage. Notice a mild, metallic smell instead? That’s one sign the ground beef is still good to cook with.
2. The meat has a slimy texture
As you’re working with the ground beef, if it feels slimy or sticky, you’re better off discarding it. Why? Because that means it’s most likely contaminated with harmful bacteria. In contrast, continue using the meat if it has a firm yet malleable texture.
3. It’s past this date
Always check the “sell-by” date on the packaging. This is different from an expiration date as it reveals when the meat needs to be sold before the quality starts declining. Ground beef that’s 1 to 3 days past that date should still be fine to use as long as it doesn’t look, smell or feel strange. Anything longer than that means it’s time to toss the ground beef.
How to store ground beef
To stay on the safe side, keep raw ground beef in the fridge and use it within 1 to 2 days after purchasing. You can also preserve meat freshness longer by securely wrapping it in a plastic bag or aluminum foil and storing in the freezer for up to 4 months.
And there you have it: easy tips that guarantee your ground beef is at its flavor peak when it’s time to whip up a delicious meal!
Ready to cook with that pack of fresh ground beef? Whip up these meaty recipes below: