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How to Tell if Beef Is Spoiled

By Elsie Goycoolea. Updated: February 23, 2021
How to Tell if Beef Is Spoiled

Beef is a great source of protein. Although the amount of red meat someone eats needs to be catered to the individual. In any case, it should be good quality meat from a responsible source and as fresh as possible. Although we can store it in the fridge or the freezer, we need to know the longer it is stored, the more likely it will spoil. The type of beef will also affect its longevity, so we need to know if ground beef is bad as much as a good ribeye.

In this oneHOWTO article, we look a how to tell if beef is spoiled. We look at different ways to know if our beef is bad and what we can do to keep it fresh for longer.

You may also be interested in: How To Tell If Food Is Spoiled

Tell if beef is spoiled by expiry date

The first thing we need to check if we think our beef is bad, is to check out the expiry or sell-by date. There are some food which are marked with a best before date. The latter is for foods which are most fresh when eaten before the date given, but an expiry date is the last date it can be eaten. After this time, it will need to be discarded. Even if it might actually be fine to eat, it is best not to risk it, especially with red meat like beef.

If you have removed your beef from its package, make sure you write the expiry date on the new container with a marker. This will help you know if the beef is spoiled or can last a few more days. If we don't have an expiry date, then we can use the tips and tricks below.

If you have used beef in other recipes, you might also want to know how to tell if soup is spoiled.

Tell if beef is bad due to appearance

If you want to know how to know if ground beef is bad or any cut of beef, appearance can tell us a lot. However, unlike chicken and some other meats, discoloration doesn't necessarily mean the beef has gone off completely. Generally, beef that is red is safe to consume. However, if the beef starts to go brown, it could be due to something known as metmyoglobin.

Metmyoglobin is the oxidized form of beef which occurs when the beef has come into contact with oxygen in the air. This is unlikely to occur in vacuum packed beef, but if you buy beef from the butcher or is is in a loosely sealed container, it is common for the beef to oxidize. As long as it is in its expiry and smells good, it should be fine.

However, if the beef starts to turn green, this means it is spoiled. When se see an oily sheen, green coloration or evident signs of bacteria, it means we shouldn't eat this beef.

Beef is not the only meat which will expire. Take a look at our article on how to tell if meat is spoiled for more general information.

How to Tell if Beef Is Spoiled - Tell if beef is bad due to appearance

Tell if beef is bad due to smell

Good fresh beef should have a good fresh smell. It shouldn't have a strong odor and it shouldn't smell bad. Aged beef might have a stronger smell and, of course, beef which has been marinaded in different flavors will have the smell of the aromatics.

When beef has gone bad, it will have a sour and pungent smell. It is not common for beef to start smelling if it has not undergone discoloration, but it is possible. If the smell is sour, strong and hurts your nostrils a little, it has undoubtedly gone bad. However, even if it smells a little off, it should probably not be used, especially if it is after its expiry date or has been left open for some days.

Tell if beef is bad due to texture

While smell and discoloration are perhaps the most important and obvious ways to tell if beef has gone bad, we should also be able to tell by its texture. Different cuts of beef will have different levels of firmness, usually to do with how much muscle is in the area.

Another factor will be how it is processed. Fresh steak cuts will be cut after the animal is butchered. Unless it has been tenderized, it should be firm. Aged steak should be more tender because the aging process has allowed collagen to break down. Ground beef, however, has been ground down in such a way that it is no longer firm, but almost like a paste. The more finely ground, the more paste like it will be.

For a cut of steak, if the texture is slimy and sticky it means it has spoiled. This is due to bacterial growth on the outside of the meat. If we want to know how to know if ground beef bad then it can be difficult to tell by texture alone. Good ground beef might feel a little sticky due to its processing, but bad ground beef will be slimy and will likely also be discolored and smell bad.

Texture is also important for other foodstuffs, as you can see when trying to tell if mushrooms are still good to eat.

How long does cooked beef last in the fridge?

So far, when talking about beef steak or ground beef, we have discussed how to tell if raw beef is spoiled. Once you cook beef, it will last longer, but not indefinitely. It will be difficult to tell by color since cooked beef will be darker than raw. Also, if we cook the beef in a sauce or other type of dish, the other ingredients can make it difficult to tell if it is spoiled.

You can cook beef up until its sell-by date, but after that time, you will need to discard after 3-4 days, according to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)[1]. However, we need to store it in an air tight container and keep it refrigerated until we eat it again.

How to Tell if Beef Is Spoiled - How long does cooked beef last in the fridge?

Can I freeze beef?

If you want to make beef last longer, then we can freeze it. This will work for both cooked and raw beef, whether in steaks or ground. Refrigeration slows the spread of bacteria, but doesn't stop it. Freezing beef at temperatures below 0 ºC (32 ºF) means it can really be kept indefinitely. However, although cold temperatures stop bacteria from spreading, it doesn't necessarily mean it will be kept well.

Beef which is kept for more than 4 months in the freezer can be susceptible to freezer burn. This is when the food is affected by dehydration or oxidization in the freezer, usually due to being poorly packaged. This won't cause the food to be inedible, but it can affect the flavor once defrosted and is best removed. Keeping the beef in an air tight container or, even better, in a vacuum sealed pack will help the beef keep for longer.

Our article has helped you to know how to tell if meat has gone bad, but what happens if you have already eaten spoiled beef? Here we explain what happens when you eat meat that has gone bad.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Tell if Beef Is Spoiled, we recommend you visit our Food & drink category.

Tips
  • Never leave meat at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. Bacteria starts growing between 4°C to 60°C (40°F to 140°F).
References

1. USDA. (2019). How long can you keep cooked beef?
https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-long-can-you-keep-cooked-beef

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3 comments
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Marv Hanson
I worked in a meat processing plant where they made corned beef, pastrami, smoked briskets, BBQ ribs and rubbed cooked roast beef (which was not roasted but cooked inside a cry o vac bag (sealed) in a large vat of hot water 160 degrees for hours until it reached water temp. We had beef that would spoil before processing, it would get that sticky slime over it. As long as it hadn't gotten past the surface, the piece would be washed and scrubbed in cold water, rinsed off and tossed into a container of salt brine for future use. Or it might be put into a vat full of corned beef that was curing since this had the same salt brine but with spices added. This was completely allowable and ok with the USDA Inspectors on sight. Sometimes the might inspect it first, but it had to be in pretty rough shape to get tossed out.
Michael Riley
Elsie, I take issue with your article. I hope you are not writing this article to support the beef industry because you are doing a big disserve advising readers to discard beef after the expiration date. Let me be clear, beef does not spoil, it rots. Beef is one of the few meats that bacteria only grows on its surface. Just scrape off the surface and fully cook the surface to kill the bacteria. This is why you can eat steaks rare and medium rare. By the way, rotted steak is called an aged steak because it is set aside to rot which makes the steak tender.
OneHowTo Editor
Hi Michael,

Aging beef is a careful process which requires very specific conditions to ensure it is consumable. Leaving beef too long at home in the wrong conditions can be very dangerous. Our advice here is not the advice of the beef industry, but taken from various hygiene standards organizations which act in the interests of public safety. You may say some of our advice is being on the safe side, but this is because it is the best way to avoid food poisoning, not something we are going to apologize for.
Marv Hanson
This is true to a degree, and I have saved many roasts and steaks from getting tossed. Wash thoroughly under running cold water, rubbing and rinsing until you can no longer feel the sticky slime and it should no longer smell bad. Should be cooked right away or cover with salt brine.
Rating:
Adorna gerrard
What caused my cooked shin beef and onion to go sour and start to curdle it was cold then I added the cooked vegetables to make a meat and potato pie. This has been twice at different intervals.

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