There’s nothing more unsettling than discovering some unknown substance in your food just when you’re about to cook it. Especially when handling meat, it is understandable to be a little iffy when we discover something that is unusual.
We know that meat is supposed to have a pinkish or reddish hue when it’s fresh, so the appearance of any other color can be a little disconcerting. White stuff on ground beef, for example, can make anyone suspicious.
But what is it and is it safe to eat?
Is it Safe to Eat the White Stuff in Ground Beef?
The white stuff in ground beef could either be due to congealed fat in the meat or freezer burn. It is safe to eat as long as there are no other signs of food spoilage like mold or strange growths, a foul odor, and a slimy or sticky texture. However, if you are unsure, it is best to discard it.
What is the White Stuff in My Ground Beef?
White spots on ground beef can be caused by two things – congealed fat or freezer burn. We’ll explore those reasons below.
1. Congealed Fat
If you notice white spots in your ground beef, it can be due to congealed fat in the beef. Depending on the fat content of your ground beef, you may see a lot of these white spots, especially if you have refrigerated or frozen your ground beef, or just a few of them.
In any case, it is safe to eat as long as there are no other signs of food spoilage.
2. Freezer Burn
If you have frozen your ground beef and find that it has white spots on it, it could also be due to freezer burn. Freezer burn is defined as a condition where the food is damaged, discolored, or dried out because of the way it was stored in the freezer.
In freezer burn, how the food was packaged and how long it stayed in the freezer play a huge role. If it was not properly wrapped and the air is allowed to circulate around the food, and if the food item has been stored for a long time in the freezer, there is a higher chance of developing freezer burn.
In simple terms, freezer burn occurs because of the process of sublimation. Sublimation is when solid substances turn into gas, bypassing the liquid state (as opposed to evaporation, when solid substances turn into liquid).
When food is frozen, say your ground beef, the water molecules turn to ice crystals. These ice crystals appear first on the surface of the food, and eventually want to migrate and leave the food to move to the coldest part of the freezer. When this happens, moisture is lost, which results in meat that is dry and shriveled out.
As the water molecules escape, oxygen molecules are then able to seep in, too, which results in oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical process that causes the dulling of the color and flavor of meat and is what jumpstarts the process of spoilage.
While the meat won’t really spoil while in the freezer, its color, quality, taste, and texture will definitely be negatively affected by oxidation.
If you see white stuff in your ground beef that has been frozen, it may have been caused by freezer burn.
Is White Stuff in Ground Beef Safe to Eat?
The white stuff in ground beef is safe to eat, as long as your ground beef does not exhibit any other signs of food spoilage.
If it is congealed fat, heating it up will melt the solidified fat and allow you to use your ground beef as normal (although I know it can be a little bit concerning knowing you are ingesting all that congealed fat.)
If it is due to freezer burn, it will still be safe to eat, but there may be undesirable changes in flavor and texture, especially if the ground beef has been in the freezer for a long, long time. It won’t make you sick, but you may not like the inevitable flavor changes.
If you find that you are okay with the flavor and texture, and there are no other signs that it has deteriorated in quality, then white stuff in ground beef is safe to eat.
How to Properly Store Ground Beef
It is only safe to keep raw ground beef in the fridge for about 1-2 days. In the case of cooked ground beef, the USDA says that a maximum of 4 days is advised.
As such, raw ground beef should be used within two days and leftovers consumed within 4 days, or else it will go bad.
Ground beef, especially when it is raw, should be properly wrapped when stored in the fridge and kept away from other foods to prevent cross-contamination.
Raw ground beef should especially be stored away from foods that will not be cooked prior to consumption, such as fruits, vegetables, salads, cheese, and others.
If you know you will not be using or eating your ground beef within 1-2 days (or your leftovers within 4 days), it is advisable to store the ground beef in the freezer, where it will last much longer.
According to the USDA, ground beef can safely be stored in the freezer indefinitely, but it will deteriorate over time so it is best consumed within 4 months.
To store ground beef in the freezer, make sure to wrap them in heavy duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil or freezer-safe paper, or freezer bags. You can also use airtight tupperwares or plastic containers, just make sure that these are designated meat containers, and you will not be using them for your raw salad in the future.
It is important to keep air out as much as possible to slow down oxidation and freezer burn. As with refrigerator storage, keep raw ground beef away from other types of food to prevent contamination.
The refrigerator and freezer will help prolong the shelf life of your ground beef but it is imperative to follow the correct way of storing or wrapping the ground beef to prevent contamination and loss of flavor and quality.
How Do I Know If Ground Beef Is Still Good To Eat?
Ground beef that has gone bad will definitely show signs of spoilage, and to determine if it is still good to eat, we have to use our senses.
Fresh ground beef should be red or light pink in color, due to the presence of myoglobin. If it has any other color, it is best to proceed with caution.
While discoloration is not necessarily a sign that it has gone bad, as in the case of the white stuff you see, it is important to exercise prudence and caution when determining whether your ground beef is still safe to eat.
If it has white stuff, or it has a light brown color, it isn’t necessarily bad, but if it has fuzzy growths, blue or green mold, and other unusual colors, then it is best tossed in the bin.
A foul, off-putting smell is also a clear indication that your ground beef has gone bad. Fresh meat should smell like meat and nothing else. If it smells of rotten eggs or ammonia, or if it has any other strong smell, it has likely gone bad and should be discarded.
Spoiled ground beef will be slimy and sticky in texture. Fresh ground beef that is good to eat will be firm and will break apart when squeezed. If your ground beef isn’t any of these things, it has likely begun to spoil.
Expiration dates are a good indication of whether you should proceed to consume your ground beef or not. Even if your meat looks and feels okay, if it is past its expiration date, you may want to reconsider consuming it. Ground beef is not that expensive, but getting sick inevitably is.
If you know that your ground beef was not properly stored, for instance, if it has been in the fridge for more than 2 days or it was left at room temperature for more than 2 hours, it is best not to consume it even if you haven’t spotted any signs of spoilage.
This is because even if we do not see it, food-borne illness-causing bacteria may have already begun to act on the ground beef. The USDA states that food should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. This is what is known as the food danger zone.
Refrigerating delays and slows down this process but even then, it will still happen especially if your ground beef has been stored in the fridge for longer than the recommended time of 2 days.
What Happens if You Eat Bad Ground Beef?
Eating bad or contaminated ground beef can have serious health consequences. The bacteria and pathogens present in spoiled meat cannot be cooked into oblivion, and ingesting it puts you at risk for potentially life-threatening food-borne illnesses.
Below are some of the things you may experience when you eat bad or contaminated ground beef:
- Fever and Chills
- Abdominal and Muscle Cramping
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Neurological issues
Symptoms may either resolve themselves in a few days or may persist for weeks and may even lead to hospitalization and in some cases, death.
Most especially if you are an immunocompromised individual, it certainly isn’t worth risking it. Besides, it probably would not taste good anyway, so it’s actually double the punishment.
Frequently Asked Questions to White Stuff in Ground Beef
Why Does My Ground Beef Smell Like Eggs?
If your ground beef smells like eggs, it is a pretty good indication that it has gone bad. The compound responsible for this smell in both beef and eggs is sulfur. Once you smell this on your beef, it’s time to toss it out.
What Happens if You Eat Bad Ground Beef?
Eating bad ground beef puts you at risk for a food-borne illness. Nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, fever and diarrhea are common symptoms. Some cases resolve on their own after a few days but some cases may lead to hospitalization and even become life-threatening.
What is the White Stuff On My Ground Beef in the Fridge?
The white stuff on ground beef stored in the fridge may be due to congealed fat. When fat is stored in cold temperatures, it may solidify and appear white. If the meat has been previously frozen, the white spots may be due to freezer burn.
Conclusion to White Stuff in Ground Beef
The white stuff in ground beef may be due to congealed fat or freezer burn. In both cases, it is safe to eat provided there are no other signs of food spoilage.
However, it is best to proceed with caution when consuming ground beef that has strange spots or unidentifiable substances on the surface. It is best to be prudent and refrain from consuming it if you are in any way doubtful of its freshness.