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How To Tell If Ground Beef Is Bad? 5 Signs to Watch Out For

There is so much you can do with ground beef that it never hurts to have a little bit of extra on hand in the kitchen, for nights when you just want to have a quick meal. While you don’t want to stock up on too much ground beef, having a little extra here and there can help you save time and save some money.

So how do you know if you can still use that package of ground beef that you got for a recipe a few days ago?

How To Tell If Ground Beef Is Bad?

You can tell ground beef is bad by checking its appearance, smell, and texture. If there are unusual growths and discoloration, an off-putting smell, and a slimy or sticky texture, it means it has gone bad. Ground beef should also be discarded if it is past the use-by date and if it was not stored properly.  

How To Tell If Ground Beef Is Bad?
How To Tell If Ground Beef Is Bad?

5 Ways to Tell That Ground Beef Is Bad

So you bought too much ground beef or you have leftovers from a recipe you made a few days ago.

How do you know if you can still use it to make dinner tonight? We’ll give you 5 easy ways to tell.

1. Looks Matter

We’ve heard it said that looks don’t matter, but in the case of ground beef, looks matter a lot. Not only for aesthetic purposes but for safety reasons, too.

If your ground beef has gone bad, you might see some strange fuzzy growths or discoloration, and sometimes even worms. If you spot any of this, toss it out right away!

Ground beef will also experience natural color changes as it progresses through its lifetime. Fresh ground beef will have a pinkish or reddish color, thanks to a pigment-rich protein called myoglobin.

Myoglobin is an iron-containing protein that gives raw meat its reddish, pinkish color. It is responsible for delivering oxygen to the muscles of the animal, in much the same way that hemoglobin oxygenates the blood cells. The more myoglobin in the meat, the deeper the shade of red is. 

Ground beef will have this oxygenated red color at its freshest, and the longer it is exposed to oxygen, the more it oxidizes and turns into a brown color until it eventually turns gray.

If your ground beef has brown spots, it may not necessarily be bad at this point, but it definitely means that it is not at its freshest. If there are no other accompanying signs of spoilage, it is best used immediately as it will not last for very long at this stage.

If your ground beef has turned gray, it is past its prime and should be immediately discarded.

2. Take A Whiff

If your ground beef has gone bad, the smell is probably one of the first things you will notice. Meat that has spoiled will have a very strong foul and off-putting smell that is impossible to miss. It might smell of ammonia or rotten eggs, or smell like something has died.

The only smell your meat should have is the smell of meat or none at all. Any strong or unusual odor is a likely sign that your ground beef has gone bad.

3. Feel The Texture

Ground beef that is fresh should be a bit firm to the touch and should break apart or fall apart when it is squeezed. If your ground beef is sticky or slimy, or if it is coated in a filmy substance, that is a glaring sign that it has gone bad, and should be tossed right away.

Fresh ground beef should not have any discoloration or smell and should be crumbly in texture, not slimy or sticky.
Fresh ground beef should not have any discoloration or smell and should be crumbly in texture, not slimy or sticky.

4. Look at The Expiration Date

Ground beef will typically have an expiration or use-by date on the package. This is useful for perishable goods like meat as it takes a lot of the guesswork out of figuring out how long your ground beef is good for.

Even if your meat looks, smells or feels okay, but it is past its use-by date, I wouldn’t recommend consuming it since we don’t know when this ground beef was actually packaged and what happened to it before it got sold to you at the store.

Aside from this, we have no way of knowing that the meat is really not contaminated as bacteria and pathogens are invisible and cannot be seen. It is best to err on the side of caution rather than risk a food-borne illness.

5. Take Note of How It Was Stored

Lastly, take note of how your ground beef was stored when determining if it is still good to consume. The USDA advises that in the fridge, ground beef remains good for only 1-2 days. In the freezer, it will last much longer but will deteriorate in quality the longer it is frozen, so it is best to consume it within 3-4 months.

Never leave ground beef out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, as temperatures between 40-140 °F are the ideal temperature for bacteria to thrive and proliferate. This is what is called the food danger zone.

If you left out your ground beef for more than two hours outside, it is not a good idea to consume it as it could be harboring bacteria that can be harmful to your health.

So there you have it, 5 useful ways to tell if your ground beef is still good to eat. If you checked all 5 signs and you are still unsure, I would recommend just tossing it out rather than putting yourself at risk of getting sick.

My Ground Beef Is Brown On The Outside and Pink On The Inside?

Sometimes, you may find that your ground beef turned brown on its exterior but remained pink inside. Again, browning does not necessarily mean that you have bad ground beef. If there are no other signs of food spoilage, it is just likely a result of the oxidation of the meat.

Myoglobin and Oxygen

As we mentioned earlier, myoglobin is what is responsible for the reddish, pinkish color of meat. This protein contains iron, which binds together with oxygen molecules. This in turn is what determines the color of the meat.

Purple-red

In the absence of oxygen, such as in vacuum-packed meats, or meats that have just been sliced at the butcher’s, myoglobin takes on a purple-red color and is known at this stage as deoxymyoglobin. 

Bright Red

When the meat begins to be exposed to oxygen, the iron in the myoglobin binds with oxygen and transforms into a different compound, called oxymyoglobin. 

At this stage, the meat transforms into a shade of bright cherry red, which is the color we usually associate with fresh meat.

This process is known as “blooming”, and is typically done with cuts like steak.

Tan or Brown

In packages with very little oxygen, for example, when meat pieces are stacked on top of each other, browning may occur.

Browning also happens when after prolonged exposure to oxygen, the iron in the myoglobin loses its ability to bind with oxygen, causing the meat to turn brown. Myoglobin in this state is called metmyoglobin. To visualize this process, we can think of the process of rusting. Essentially meat “rusts” when it has oxidized.

Brown meat is not necessarily bad at this point, but it does mean that it is not as fresh as reddish or pinkish meat.

If your meat is brown on the outside but pink on the inside, the outside has likely been exposed and oxidized more than the inside, explaining the difference in color.

If there are no other signs of spoiling, it is good to eat.

As meat continues to be exposed to oxygen, it will eventually turn brown.
As meat continues to be exposed to oxygen, it will eventually turn brown.

What Happens If I Still Eat The Bad Ground Beef?

If you eat still eat the bad ground beef, there is a big chance you will get sick from a foodborne illness. How serious the poisoning becomes depends on your health status and the amount and kind of toxin ingested. 

Some cases of food poisoning or food-borne illness resolve themselves within a couple of hours, but some cases persist for days and weeks. Some may require hospitalization and some may turn into a life-threatening illness.

If you ask me, it just isn’t worth the trouble, discomfort, and the risk to eat something that will probably not taste very good anyway.

Symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal and Muscle Pain
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Fever

Sometimes, toxins released by bacteria and pathogens in spoiled meat can cause long-term health effects. These cannot really be cooked off by heat, so again, it isn’t a good idea to risk your health by consuming bad ground beef.

If you eat bad ground beef, you will likely be hit with food poisoning.
If you eat bad ground beef, you will likely get food poisoning.

How Long Can I Hold On To My Ground Beef?

One to two days is the maximum period that you can keep your ground beef if you are storing it in the fridge. In the freezer, the time frame is up to 4 months. In both cases, always make sure that they are kept away from other stuff in your fridge and freezer, especially fruits and vegetables, cheese and salads, or food that aren’t typically cooked further.

Make sure to also store it in airtight, freezer-safe, raw meat dedicated containers. This is because we want to avoid cross-contamination and keep you and your other food safe to eat.

While ground beef will last for a long time in the freezer, perhaps indefinitely, it will not maintain its best quality forever. Over time, it will start to deteriorate and lose its moisture, which is why it is advised to consume them within 3-4 months.

Cooking ground beef can extend its shelf life in the fridge to up to 4 days. It can also be frozen for later consumption, but also best to consume it within the 3-4 month period.

Storing your ground beef properly will ensure that you retain as much of its moisture and quality and flavor as long as possible, so you can get to enjoy it as you would fresh ground beef.

Ground beef will last 1-2 days in the fridge and up to 4 months in the freezer.
Ground beef will last 1-2 days in the fridge and up to 4 months in the freezer.

Frequently Asked Questions to How To Tell If Ground Beef Is Bad

How to Tell if Ground Beef Is Bad By Its Smell?

Fresh ground beef should not smell of anything but fresh meat. Ground beef that has gone bad will have a very strong putrid odor, something akin to rotten eggs or ammonia.

Is Raw Ground Beef in the Fridge for 7 Days Still Good?

Raw ground beef that has been sitting in the fridge for 7 days will not be good to consume, as it can only be safely kept for 2 days before spoilage-causing bacteria gets the better of it. It is dangerous to consume anything sitting in your fridge for longer than that, even if it does not exhibit any obvious signs of spoilage.

How Long Is Uncooked Ground Beef Good In the Fridge?

Uncooked ground beef can only sit in your fridge for about two days.

Conclusion to How To Tell If Ground Beef is Bad

It is easy to tell if that package of ground beef should be tossed by checking what it looks, smells and feels like. Discoloration, fuzzy growths, mold, and worms are clear indications that the meat has gone bad, as well as a foul off-putting odor akin to rotting eggs or ammonia, as well as a slimy and sticky texture. 

Ground beef that is past its expiration date and ground beef that has not been stored and handled properly have also likely gone bad and are risky to consume.

If you are unsure, it is better to err on the side of caution rather than risk a food-borne illness.

Author Bio

Daniel Iseli (Head Chef)

Hi, my name is Daniel and I am passionate about cooking. I have been cooking for the past 20 years and am happy to share my best recipes and cooking-related knowledge with you.