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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated
to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.
Ground beef is a versatile meat. You can use it to make a delicious bolognese, shape it into patties for home cooked burgers, or fix beef tacos.
However, you must always check that your ground beef is fresh and safe to eat before you begin cooking. Luckily, there are some simple signs to look out for when determining whether your ground meat is bad. By checking for changes in the color, smell, and texture of the beef, you should be able to detect its freshness.
1. The 5 Simple Things to Check
If you want to be completely sure your ground beef is safe to eat, check for all 5 of these signs.
1. The color of the meat
How can you tell if ground beef is bad? The easiest way to see whether your meat has spoiled is to check its color. Healthy and fresh ground beef should be a bright shade of red. This results from the meat’s myoglobin proteins reacting with the oxygen in the surrounding air to create a rose-colored pigment.
If the meat’s surface is this color, you know that it’s probably safe to eat. In this instance, you won’t need to worry if the central section of this ground beef is gray or brown; it’s just that this area of the meat hasn’t had direct contact with oxygen.
You’ll know that your meat is bad if you spot sections of discoloration on its surface. Look for gray and brown blotches on the outer layer of the ground beef, as these are signs that your meat is beginning to decompose and decay.
If you notice any green or blue sections of mold anywhere on the ground beef, get rid of this meat immediately.
2. The meat gives off an unpleasant odor
When ground beef goes bad, it often gives off a distinctive odor that smells a bit like ammonia. This is because spoilage microbes like Pseudomonas and Lactobacillus grow and fester in the meat, releasing chemicals that carry this unpleasant aroma. If your beef smells like bleach, it’s a sign that it is decomposing.
Sometimes ground beef may still be bad, even if it smells fine. Certain pathogenic microbes, like Listeria and Salmonella, might not emit a strong smell, but they can cause you harm if you eat them.
3. The expiration date of the meat
Always double-check the expiration date of your ground beef before deciding whether to eat it. If the meat is past its expiration date, it’s best to throw it away.
If you can’t find the best before date anywhere on the packaging, check for the sell-by or display until date. This is the date the supermarkets use to regulate their stock. The retailer has to sell this meat before the display until date, and the beef should remain fresh if you keep it in a fridge for 1-2 days after this date.
Whenever you put ground beef in the freezer, mark the current day on the package. This way, you’ll know how long meat’s been frozen when you take it out to defrost. Try not to eat ground beef that’s been in the freezer for longer than 4 months. If you store meat in freezing conditions for longer than 5-6 months, it can develop freezer burn, leading to deterioration in quality and mouthfeel.
4. The texture and feel of the meat
Another way to check the freshness of your ground beef is to touch it. When spoilage bacteria grow in the meat, they create a sticky and mushy slime that will stick to your fingers. Prod the surface of the beef and see if its texture feels like gunk. If it does, throw the meat away.
Fresh ground beef will feel cold and more compact than rotten meat. It should also be slightly moist.
5. Whether there are large ice crystals on the meat’s surface
How can you tell if ground beef is bad if it’s frozen? This particular hack only really applies to frozen ground beef, but it’s a helpful sign that your meat might not be safe.
Check for spot clumps of ice crystals or white blemishes on your frozen meat. These clumps indicate that the meat has suffered from freezer burn. This condition occurs when the frozen food comes into direct contact with the surrounding air, causing the ice crystals on the beef’s surface to sublimate from solid to gas form and leave the meat.
When the frozen beef loses these crystals, it shrinks and becomes dehydrated. The defrosted meat might be safe to eat, but it will have an unsatisfactory texture and a flavorless taste.
2. How Can You Stop Ground Beef From Going Bad in the First Place?
Fortunately, there are several tips you can use to preserve your raw meat properly and ensure it doesn’t go off in the first place.
Put it in the freezer
If you’re not going to cook your ground beef within a few days of purchasing it, wrap it properly and put it in the freezer, making sure to mark the date and type of meat on the packaging for reference later on. If you get your ground beef from the supermarket, keep it sealed in the packaging: if you buy it from the butcher, ask them to wrap it up in specialist butcher or freezer paper. You should then wrap the meat in aluminum foil before freezing it.
Once you take the meat out of the fridge, cook it all
Make sure that you cook all your ground beef at once after you’ve taken it out of the fridge. Leaving uncooked meat at room temperature allows bacteria to proliferate. Cook all your beef at the same time, even if you’re not planning on using some of it. You can store the leftover meat in your fridge or freezer to eat later on.
Read more: Grinding your own meat.
The Final Word
Fortunately, you can use a few simple ways to tell if your beef has gone bad. Smell the meat first, then check it for signs of spoilage and discoloration before touching it to see if you can detect any sliminess. If the ground beef hasn’t passed its expiration date and looks, feels, and smells fresh, you’ll know that it’s perfectly fine to cook and eat.