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White Spots on Hamburger Meat – What is It? Safe to Eat?

White spots on hamburger meat are not uncommon, and while it isn’t always bad, it is always best to proceed with caution. After all, this is our safety that we are talking about, not simply food aesthetics. 

So what are those white spots on your hamburger meat and in what cases are they safe to eat?

Are White Spots on Hamburger Meat Safe to Eat?

White spots on hamburger meat are safe to eat if the white spots are fat pockets or a result of freezer burn. If the white spots are not due to either, it may be because it has started to spoil. If this is the case, it is not safe to eat and is best discarded.

White Spots on Hamburger Meat - What is It? Safe to Eat?
White Spots on Hamburger Meat – What is It? Safe to Eat?

What Are the White Spots On My Hamburger Meat?

White spots on hamburger meat are likely caused by one of three F’s: fat, freezer burn or food spoilage.

1. Fat

Hamburger meat is made of beef, and beef can sometimes be fatty. If you see white spots in your hamburger meat, it can be due to solidified or congealed fat.

Fat tends to solidify at lower temperatures, so especially if your hamburger meat has been refrigerated or frozen, these white spots may be more obvious to you when you have just taken them out of cold storage.

In this case, it is safe to eat. As you cook your burgers, the fat will melt, getting rid of the white spots in your hamburger meat.

2. Freezer Burn

Most of the time, the freezer is your best friend If you want to extend the shelf life of your food. However, it is not perfect. Sometimes, especially if the container you stored your hamburger meat in isn’t airtight, freezer burn may occur.

Freezer burn is what happens to food when it loses moisture and oxidizes in the freezer, due to improper wrapping or prolonged storage. The way science explains it is, as food freezes, water molecules in the food turn to ice crystals. If not stored properly or the longer it is kept in the freezer, the ice crystals eventually want to leave the food.

It first migrates to the surface, then moves to the parts of the freezer that are the coldest, resulting in food that is dried up. As water molecules leave, oxygen molecules also creep in, causing oxidation and a dulling of color and an overall deterioration in quality.

When meat that has experienced freezer burn is thawed, this deterioration may manifest as white spots in the meat. In this case, it is still also safe to eat, but it may not necessarily be enjoyable as there might also be flavor and texture changes to the meat.

3. Food Spoilage

If fat isn’t at fault and your hamburger meat has never been frozen and thawed, you are likely looking at food spoilage as the culprit.

White spots, especially if they are fuzzy, can be due to mold forming on your hamburger meat. This is due to prolonged or incorrect storage and is a sign that the hamburger meat has spoiled. In this case, it is not safe to eat and should be discarded right away.

White spots on hamburger meat can be due to fat, freezer burn or food spoilage.
White spots on hamburger meat can be due to fat, freezer burn or food spoilage.

What is Hamburger Meat?

When we say hamburger meat, we think of the iconic hamburger – broiled or grilled beef burgers with lettuce and tomatoes sandwiched in a bun. It’s natural to think of hamburger meat as the meat that goes into a hamburger.

That’s not totally inaccurate but the USDA has a specific definition of what hamburger meat really is.

Hamburger meat is made of beef. It is ground up and contains no more than 30% fat. This fat may be part of the beef parts that have been ground up or may be added from different beef parts. The USDA allows either of these as long as the percentage of fat remains under 30%.

No binders, extenders, or water is allowed to be added on hamburger meat, but seasonings are allowed provided they are included in the labels. 

Is Hamburger Meat the Same as Ground Beef?

Hamburger meat can look very similar to ground beef. Both are ground-up beef parts and both can contain only a maximum of 30% fat. However, they differ in how that fat is added.

Hamburger meat may have meat trimmings or fat added from various beef parts but ground beef, for it to be labeled as such, can only come from one specific source.

If your ground beef is ground sirloin, the meat and fat should be sirloin only. You cannot add other beef parts like chuck and you cannot add fat and meat trimmings from other parts.

Both hamburger meat and ground beef can have seasonings, and both cannot have extenders or binders.

Both ground beef and hamburger meat cannot contain more than 30% fat. The fat in hamburger meat can be added from different parts unlike in ground beef.
Both ground beef and hamburger meat cannot contain more than 30% fat. The fat in hamburger meat can be added from different parts unlike in ground beef.

What Is the Difference Between Hamburger Meat and Burger Patties?

So we know that ground beef and hamburger meat are different in terms of the composition of meat and source of fat. Ground beef is single source and hamburger meat can be multiple source. Both cannot have extenders and both can only have a maximum of 30 % fat.

In comes burger patties. How is it different from ground beef and hamburger meat? According to the North American Meat Institute, burger patties pertain more to the form of the meat. In other words, the flat, circular shape we typically associate with a burger is what is known as a patty. Patties can be made with all hamburger meat or all ground beef.

In addition, labeling requirements allow patties to have binders, extenders, and added ingredients, such as bread crumbs, or other ingredients like cheese and mushrooms, which isn’t the case for meat labeled as hamburger meat and ground beef.

Burger patties can also come uncooked or pre-cooked.

How to Store Hamburger Meat

Hamburger meat should only be stored for one to two days in the fridge and for 4 months max in the freezer. It should be properly wrapped with cling wrap or stored in a raw meat-dedicated airtight container.

Never leave your hamburger meat on the counter to avoid contaminating your kitchen, and to avoid bacterial proliferation.

Always store in the fridge or freezer. It should be kept separate from foods that will not be cooked prior to eating, like salads and fruits and vegetables. This is because if they are stored together, cross-contamination may occur, and make your other foods unsafe to eat.

When storing in the freezer, make sure you are using airtight containers or freezer bags to minimize the incidence of freezer burn, which may cause moisture and flavor loss in your meat, and cause an overall deterioration in quality.

How Long Does Hamburger Meat Last?

Hamburger meat will keep for several months in the freezer but will only last 2 days at the most in the fridge. It will remain safe indefinitely in the freezer but it will deteriorate in quality and flavor the longer you keep it frozen.

How Do I Know If Hamburger Meat is Still Good to Eat?

Hamburger meat, like ground beef, will spoil much faster than whole pieces of meat, like steak.

To know whether you can still eat that package of hamburger meat, we use both our physical senses and our good sense. 

1. Color and Appearance

Hamburger meat that’s still okay to eat will be reddish or pinkish in appearance when raw. This color is due to the myoglobin present in the meat, which is the protein responsible for its reddish color. Myoglobin carries necessary oxygen to the muscles and contains iron.  

As the meat is exposed to oxygen, it will keep on oxidizing, which may eventually turn it into a brown color. This means that the iron in the myoglobin has oxidized.

This process is similar to the process of rusting. When the meat has turned brown, it isn’t necessarily rotten at this point, but it means it is also not as fresh as pinkish, reddish meat.

2. Smell

Spoiled hamburger meat will have a really strong, putrid smell, and it is typically one of the first signs that the meat has gone bad. It may smell of ammonia or rotten eggs because of certain compounds present in beef.  If your hamburger meat smells like something that died, it’s a no-brainer – toss the meat out!

3. Texture

If your hamburger meat is coated in an unknown substance or feels slimy or sticky to the touch, it is a glaring sign that you should throw it out. Fresh meat should break apart when squeezed and have a somewhat firm texture.

4. Expiry Date

If your hamburger meat is past its expiration date, even if it does not have any visible signs of food spoilage, it is better not to consume it.

Bacteria and pathogens are invisible to the eye, and we won’t know the extent to which the meat has been affected, which could still make you sick. 

Expiration dates keep us safe and are used for that reason, and it is just good sense to make use of it.

5. Storage and Handling

Any type of food, raw or cooked, should not be left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, 1 hour if the room is warmer than 90 °F. This is because bacteria thrive at temperatures between 40-140 °F, and if your hamburger meat was left out for a long time, bacteria will have likely contaminated it and it may make you seriously sick. 

Most toxins produced by these bacteria also cannot be killed by heat and cooking, so you cannot cook the toxin into oblivion.

It is best to always practice safe storage and handling especially with meat and meat products, to avoid wastage and avoid food borne illnesses.

Check the appearance, smell, texture, expiry date and storage method of the ground beef to check if it's still good to eat.
Check the appearance, smell, texture, expiry date and storage method of the ground beef to check if it’s still good to eat.

Is Hamburger Meat Healthy?

Beef is rich in protein, and contains vitamins B6 and B12, niacin, riboflavin, and zinc which are essential for various bodily processes. It can be a good addition to our diet, in moderation. 

This is because beef also contains a significant amount of saturated fat and cholesterol, which should only be a small part of our diet as too much of it can lead to a host of illnesses like high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

Aside from this, a diet high in red meat is also associated with an increased risk for certain cancers, due to some compounds produced in processed meat.

Red meat can also be quite expensive as it can be costlier to produce compared to vegetarian proteins. Some also argue against its regular consumption because of the environmental resources it consumes and its negative environmental impact.

This is why some organizations advise limiting consumption of red meat to a few times a week and not having it every day. Not only is it good for your health (and your wallet!), but it is good for the environment as well.   

What Can I Do With Hamburger Meat?

Hamburger meat is not just for flattening and shaping for use in burgers. As with ground beef, it can be used in a variety of recipes from meatloaf to pasta to tacos. You can use it as a filling for dumplings, or pie, roll it into meatballs for soups and stews, and use it as a topping for nachos.

Especially if your hamburger meat is not seasoned when you bought it, there are endless ways you can use this versatile ground meat. For recipe ideas, this is an awesome resource

Hamburger meat can be used beyond burgers.
Hamburger meat can be used beyond burgers.

Frequently Asked Questions to White Spots on Hamburger Meat

What Are the White Spots on My Steak in The Fridge?

The white spots on steak stored in the fridge may be due to freezer burn if the meat was previously frozen and thawed, or it may be due to solidified fat. It is also possible that the steak is starting to spoil, especially if the spots are fuzzy and if it is accompanied by other signs of food spoilage such as an off-smell and texture.

What Does Bad Ground Beef Smell Like?

Bad ground beef will have a strong, off-putting, putrid odor. It may smell sour, smell of ammonia or rotten eggs. You will definitely know ground beef has spoiled because of its smell.

How To Tell If Ground Beef is Bad After Thawing?

Similar to when it hasn’t been frozen and thawed, you can tell if ground beef is bad from its appearance and color, smell and texture. Any off-putting smell, slimy texture or unusual growths will signal that it has gone bad.

Do Burger Patties, Hamburger Meat and Ground Beef Pertain To the Same Thing?

Burger patties, hamburger meat, and ground beef are all ground up beef products. Burger patties can be made with hamburger meat or ground beef and can have added binders or extenders and ingredients. Hamburger meat and ground beef cannot have binders or extenders and should only have a maximum of 30% fat. The fat content of hamburger meat can come from various beef parts and can be added separately, unlike in ground beef where it has to be a single source.

Conclusion to White Spots on Hamburger Meat

White spots on hamburger meat may be due to the fat in the ground meat, color changes associated with freezer burn, or a sign that indicates it is on its way to spoiling.

White spots on hamburger meat are not aesthetically pleasing but they are not always dangerous to consume. Fat may sometimes solidify and congeal, especially at lower temperatures, and freezer burn happens even to the most careful and most talented of cooks.

If the white spots you see on your hamburger meat are either of these two, it is safe to eat, although there may be flavor changes especially if its due to freezer burn.

If you find that the white spots are accompanied by an off-smell and slimy texture, then it means that the white spots are signaling food spoilage, and you are better off discarding your hamburger meat.

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.