How to know if ground beef is bad: Simple signs to look for and storage tips

How to know if ground beef is bad: Simple signs to look for and storage tips

Ground beef is a versatile dinner option that satisfies foodies and picky eaters alike. But like most foods found on the perimeter of the supermarket, this meat is highly perishable. Consuming ground beef that has gone bad may lead to food poisoning. This article highlights a guide on how to know if ground beef is bad to keep you and your family safe.

How to know if ground beef is bad
Ground beef on a paper towel (L). The meat on a wooden chopping board (R). Photo: HandmadePictures, IGphotography (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images


Grinding meat exposes more of its surface to air and bacteria. Thus, ground beef spoils faster than steak or other larger cuts. It is, therefore, advisable to eat such meat within one to two days of purchase or freeze it in its original packaging for up to four months. But if you forget the meat at the back of your refrigerator, here is how to determine if it is still safe for consumption.

How to know if ground beef is bad

Are you curious whether your recently purchased ground beef has become unsafe? Do not worry! Below are some of the hard-to-miss signs that your meat should be thrown away:

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Check the colour

Outside ground beef should look nice and pink. As documented by USDA, it contains a pigment called oxymyoglobin, which, when exposed to oxygen, creates a familiar red colour.

A chef illustrating how to know if meat has spoiled by colour.
A chef illustrating how to know if meat has spoiled by colour. Photo: @cookingguide on YouTube/Giphy (modified by author)
Source: UGC

If you open a package of meat and notice an interior grey colour, it may be because it has not been exposed to oxygen.

This means the meat is safe for consumption unless it has other spoilage indicators. However, the bad ground beef colour is brown. At this point, toss the meat away as it may be rancid.

Perform a smell test

Another way to tell if meat has gone bad is simply sniffing it. Fresh pieces will smell like iron or sometimes possess a natural smell too faint to notice.

According to Cleveland Clinic, ground meat smells sour, putrid, tangy or rancid if spoiled. Therefore, if you whiff at that meat in your refrigerator and immediately make a face, that is your body’s natural reaction to something that should not be consumed.

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Feel for texture

If your ground beef smells like eggs and looks unappetizing, it is safe to assume it is already spoiled and should be disposed of.

However, you can check the meat’s texture for more confirmation. Healthy ground meat should be smooth, while that one that has gone bad will feel slimy, sticky, and wet.

Check the expiration date

When purchasing meat, it is vital to check its expiration date to ensure you do not eat spoiled meat. If the dates are okay with you, cook meat within three days after buying it to avoid eating bacteria-infested beef.

Homemade ground beef on craft paper
Homemade ground beef on craft paper. Photo: Istetiana
Source: Getty Images

Note: If you accidentally buy expired ground beef, it is better to learn from your mistake than to knowingly consume it.

Tips for storing ground beef properly

From the moment you purchase meat until the time you cook it, numerous opportunities exist for it to go bad if it is not correctly handled or stored. Here are a few tips on how to ensure your meat stays fresh until you are ready to consume it;

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  • Ensure you carry a cooler or an insulated freezer bag if you plan to transport the ground beef long distances. Freezing helps create an unfavourable environment for bacteria.
  • Place the beef on the lower fridge shelves to ensure it remains cold and away from any stray liquids that may result in contamination.
  • Store your ground beef in heavy-duty aluminium foil or freezer bags to prevent air or moisture from interacting with it.
  • Avoid leaving meat at room temperature for over two hours to avoid spoilage.
  • If you plan to thaw frozen ground beef, keep it in the refrigerator and cook it to 160 °F (71 °C).
Ground meat that has gone bad
Ground meat that has gone bad. Photo: @Mashed on YouTube/Giphy (modified by author)
Source: UGC


Below are some frequently asked questions about how to tell if ground beef has gone bad to avoid consuming spoiled meat;

What should raw ground beef smell like?

Fresh meat has a neutral, light scent. When cooked, it has a delicious aroma that could tempt you to consume the meat while still on the stove.

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What is the smell of spoiled beef?

Rancid meat has a foul, putrid odour that is easily recognizable. The scent changes due to the increased growth of spoilage bacteria, including Lactobacillus ssp.

What colour is ground beef when it goes bad?

According to Real Simple, grey or brown meat could signify rot. Checking the meat’s texture or expiration date will help you determine whether the beef is unsafe for consumption.

What does rancid beef taste like?

Per Tasting Table, spoiled meat will taste exactly as it smells: sour, bitter and tangy. In addition, the beef may taste unusually acidic due to bacterial growth.

Fresh ground beef on a wood background
Fresh ground beef on a wood background. Photo: Enez Selvi
Source: Getty Images

What are the side effects of eating spoiled beef?

Spoiled ground beef may contain pathogenic bacteria responsible for foodborne illnesses. Here are some of the symptoms of food poisoning:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headaches
  • Fever

Is ground beef healthy?

According to Relish, ground beef is a source of high-quality protein essential for muscle growth and repair. This type of meat also supports bone health and aids in weight management.

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Above is a guide on how to know if ground beef is bad. By using your senses of touch, smell, and sight, you can avoid nasty foodborne illnesses linked to eating rancid meat.

DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take based on the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility.

READ ALSO: Best vacuum cleaners in South Africa: Top list (with images) highlighted some of the best vacuum cleaners in South Africa. When choosing the right vacuum, you have to consider factors like suction power, filter type, design, manoeuvrability, and dust cup capacity.

In South Africa, there are several excellent vacuum cleaner options available. The article provides several ideas to help you find the perfect match for your home.

Source: Briefly News

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Ruth Gitonga (Lifestyle writer) Ruth Gitonga has a background experience in Mass Communication for over six years. She graduated from the University of Nairobi with a degree in Mass Communication in December 2014. In 2023, Ruth finished the AFP course on Digital Investigation Techniques. She has worked for for five years now. She specializes in topics like lifestyle, entertainment, travel, technology, and sports. Email: