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Ground Beef Brown on Outside Pink Inside – What Does It Mean? Safe to Eat?

Ground Beef Brown on Outside Pink Inside – What Does It Mean? Safe to Eat?

Inspecting raw meat at the grocery store is super important. Some places are better than others when it comes to putting out selections that are appetizing.

When the meat isn’t properly cleaned and packaged, there could be some serious consequences. So, when something unusual is detected in the meat, it would easily give cause for concern.

Ground Beef Brown On Outside Pink Inside

If you pick up a package of ground beef and it appears to be brown, it’s lacking oxygen. It’s still pink on the inside because it takes longer for the effects to work their way all the way through. In fact, if it is brown all the way through, the likelihood is that the meat has started to go bad already. Pink on the inside means it hasn’t spoiled and is safe to eat.

Ground Beef Brown on Outside Pink Inside
Ground Beef Brown on Outside Pink Inside

Oxidation Takes a Toll

The first thing to notice about beef when you’re buying it is the color. Red usually shows good health and a fresher cut. As you dig through the pile, it’s not uncommon to find some pieces that are browning a tad.

What that means is the meat has been exposed to air but has now been packaged longer than the others, depriving it of oxygen. Red turning to brown is just the air entering the room and having an effect on the meat.

Pink in the middle means it has yet to be exposed at all. This is still a good cut of meat, it just needs to be refrigerated as soon as possible.

In general, the redder the ground beef, the longer time you have with it.
In general, the redder the ground beef, the longer time you have with it.

How Long Does the Meat Have?

Bringing home ground beef that is starting to brown means time is of the essence. Of course, the redder the meat, the longer you have with it.

Typically, though, beef will get darker with time. Once the meat has begun to brown, it should be cooked or frozen within a few days.

If you don’t plan to use it that day, go ahead and put it in the freezer immediately. Freeze the oxidation process and it won’t get any browner.

Once you’ve stopped the aging, beef can last pretty much forever when it’s frozen and covered securely. To avoid freezer burn, you will want to cook it within four months.

How to Tell if Beef Has Expired

Sometimes we like to tell ourselves that we’re going to eat that meat today, but then we forget. Then, the next day, a project pops up and there is no time to properly prep ground beef.

All of a sudden, you’re standing with the refrigerator door open trying to decide what to eat for dinner when you get hit by a bolt of internal lightning. “Oh no, the ground beef!”

Quickly, you open the drawer with the package of beef, afraid of what you’ll find.

How long has it been there? Should you open it? Will you be able to tell if it spoiled?

Here’s a list of things to look out for in order to avoid having complicated issues from consumption:


If you can smell what’s inside the plastic before the package has been opened, it’s probably gone bad. Ready-to-be-eaten ground beef will actually have sort of a neutral smell. That can make figuring out if it has gone bad difficult when the meat has already been cooked.

When the package is opened, stick your nose close to the opening before pulling it all the way out. If it has gone bad, the smell will be sour or like rotten eggs.

Your olfactory senses should be sounding the alarm bells if so. The body is pretty good at being able to sort out when something is off.

Perhaps that was part of our evolution, the early humans who could sniff out the bad food lived on, whereas others ate bad meat and didn’t make it to pass on their genes. Just a thought.

Anyway, if the meat stinks, get rid of it. Do not pass go and do not collect $200. Go directly to the trash.

If the beef smells bad, get rid of it!
If the beef smells bad, get rid of it!


Okay, so maybe the meat has a little bit of a smell but you can’t tell if it’s bad or just close to it. Now is when the entirety of the meat is removed from its packaging.

If you want to be extra careful, you could use gloves for this part. The thing is, if you touch it, you will spread bad germs if the meat has spoiled because you have to turn on the water to wash your hands.

At this point, take a look at the beef from the top, on the side, and from the bottom. If the top of the meat is brown but it’s pink inside or on the bottom, it’s probably okay.

If the brown has gotten darker or if you see hints of forest green, it’s too late to save this ground beef.


This far along, the meat hasn’t smelled particularly bad nor does it look bad. There’s only one test left and that is touching it.

Yes, it was mentioned to not touch it in an effort to avoid spreading bacteria. However, if all else fails, this is the one test that won’t leave you confused.

Touching it is also the way to tell if the meat has gone bad but has already been cooked and seasoned. The smell test would probably fail and it would already be browned. Feeling it would be the only option.

If the ground beef is at all slimy, it has gone bad.

Feel the beef. If it is slimy, it is bad.
Feel the beef. If it is slimy, it is bad.

How Should Ground Beef Be Stored?

Ground beef should be stored immediately in the fridge or the freezer. Do not leave it on the counter for more than two hours. This advice goes for storing any type of food. This is to prevent bacteria from multiplying rapidly, causing food spoilage and food-borne illnesses.

Do not leave meat out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
Do not leave meat out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

Frequently Asked Questions to Ground Beef Brown on Outside Pink Inside

Can You Eat Beef That is Pink?

In reference to ground beef, you will need to cook it thoroughly. There should be no pink ground beef eaten. If you’re talking about steak, it is safe to eat that kind of beef when it is pink in the middle.

How Long Does it Take for Beef to Go Bad at Room Temperature?

If you aren’t immediately freezing ground beef, at least throw it in the fridge as soon as you can. Do not leave raw beef out on the counter beyond two hours. That’s actually a good rule of thumb for all perishables.

Conclusion: Perception is Everything

When it comes to buying meat, taking the time to be extra observant could save a life. Contaminated meat can happen at any point during the food preparation process. You just never know.

The main thing to be aware of is that the best beef is always going to be the most vibrant in color. As the red begins to fade, so will your time to use it.

Remember, when in doubt, throw it out!