How to tell if ground beef is bad: What to look for

Ground beef is a versatile meat that may be a staple item in many people’s diets. But it is likely to go bad faster than other cuts of meat, which can ruin the taste and make people sick. People should pay close attention to the color, texture, smell, and expiration date of ground beef.

Ground beef is a popular food in the United States. Research estimates that around 62% of all beef sold in the U.S. is ground. But the process of grinding meat exposes a larger surface area of ground beef to potentially harmful bacteria. This means it is likely to go bad faster than other cuts of beef.

Two examples of bacteria that may affect ground beef are spoilage bacteria and pathogenic bacteria. Spoilage bacteria are not generally harmful, but will cause food to lose quality. This may cause unpleasant odors or taste. Pathogenic bacteria are more dangerous. They may contaminate food and cause a foodborne illness, which can result in food poisoning.

In this article, we will discuss signs to look out for to tell if ground beef is bad and provide tips on how to safely handle and store ground beef.

Consuming spoiled or undercooked beef can make people feel sick, so individuals should try to store, handle, and prepare beef safely to prevent them from getting ill. There are signs people can be aware of that may warn them that ground beef is now bad.

Color

One quick way to determine if ground beef has spoiled or is good to eat is by looking at the color of the meat. Good quality, unspoiled ground beef bought from the supermarket should be bright red on the outside.

This is due to oxygen from the air reacting with meat pigments called oxymyoglobin to form a bright red color on the surface of the meat. Oxymyoglobin is typically the red liquid that leaks out of meat that many people may mistake for blood.

The inside of the meat will likely not have reacted with oxygen, so may be grayish brown in color, but is still perfectly fine to eat.

But if the ground beef is gray or brown on the outside surface of the meat, people should discard it. This discoloration suggests that it has started to go bad.

If a person notices mold on the surface of their ground beef, they should throw it away immediately, whether it be raw or cooked.

Texture

People can also check the texture to see if meat is bad. Ground beef that is fine to consume should have a relatively firm consistency that breaks apart when a person squeezes it.

But a sticky or slimy texture may indicate the presence of spoilage bacteria. This may be the result of ropy slime-forming bacteria. This bacteria can release volatile compounds that may cause slime to form on the surface of the meat.

To avoid potentially spreading bacteria, it is advisable for people to thoroughly wash their hands after handling raw meat.

Smell

Another way to tell if ground beef has gone bad is by simply smelling it. Normal, safe, fresh ground beef should not have a noticeable or unpleasant smell. Multiplying spoilage bacteria can cause a strong odor to occur.

But it is important to remember that pathogenic bacteria may not cause a bad smell. So if there is not a bad scent but the ground beef is displaying other signs that it has gone bad, it is still advisable to discard the meat.

Expiration date

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not require there be an expiration date label on any food products except infant formula. But because there are localized rules surrounding these dates, most food products do tend to have a date on them.

While many products may feature a “best before” label, the FDA want to dispel confusion and instead use the term “best if used by.” Labels such as “best before” simply refer to how long the product is likely to keep its quality and flavor, not safety.

As long as a person correctly and safely stores their meat, they do not necessarily need to discard any products past their “best before” date. It is safe for people to consume refrigerated ground beef up to 2 days past this date. If freezing, it is advisable to eat ground beef within 4 months.

Click here to learn more about freezing and storing meat.

But if a person has not correctly or safely stored meat, it is not advisable to eat it beyond the “best before” date. If a person has stored the meat at too high a temperature, or the packaging is torn or leaking, it is possible that bacteria has contaminated the ground beef.

People should be cautious if they suspect that ground beef may be bad. By consuming potentially spoiled meat, people run the risk of developing food poisoning.

Symptoms of food poisoning may include:

Outbreaks of food poisoning linked to ground beef are relatively common in the U.S.

Bacteria that may cause these outbreaks include Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), or Campylobacter. While many infections resulting from these bacteria can be mild, in some cases they can be life threatening.

In order to avoid foodborne illnesses, people should follow the four guidelines laid out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service:

  • Clean: Wash hands thoroughly and surfaces frequently.
  • Separate: Keep raw meat apart from other foods when cooking and storing.
  • Cook: Ensure that people cook all foods thoroughly at the correct temperature, for the correct amount of time.
  • Chill: Refrigerate or freeze food promptly and at the right temperature.

People should ensure that their refrigerator and freezer are the correct temperature to keep their food safe. The refrigerator should be at or below 40°F (4°C) and the freezer at or below 0°F (-17°C).

It is safe to store ground beef in the refrigerator for 1–2 days, and eat leftovers within 4 days. A person can store ground beef in the freezer for up to 4 months.

When cooking ground beef, the minimum internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer is 160°F (71°C). It is important that a person never leaves ground beef out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, as this can cause harmful bacteria to grow.

By correctly and safely handling and storing ground beef, people should be able to avoid spoilage. It is important for people to be aware of potential signs that may indicate spoilage, such as color, smell, texture, and compromised packaging or storage.

In addition to safe handling and storage of ground beef, people should also ensure they thoroughly cook ground beef to the correct internal temperature to destroy bacteria.

We picked linked items based on the quality of products, and list the pros and cons of each to help you determine which will work best for you. We partner with some of the companies that sell these products, which means Healthline UK and our partners may receive a portion of revenues if you make a purchase using a link(s) above.