How to Tell if Ground Beef Is Bad? (4 Critical Indicators)

Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: December 5, 2023

I’ve been on a carnivore diet for over five years, and ground beef is a staple of my diet.

I eat a dish containing ground beef at least once a week, and because of that, I had to learn how to recognize what meat is good for consumption based on certain criteria.

Today, I’ll explain all the ways in which you can tell ground beef has gone bad.

Quick Summary

  • You can tell ground beef has spoiled by touching, smelling, and visually inspecting it.
  • You should be careful how you handle your beef in case you have spoiled meat.
  • You can store the beef in the freezer for up to four months or in the fridge for two days.

4 Ways to Tell Ground Beef is Bad

A top view image of ground beef

There are four main things you must look for before you can eat ground beef safely.

1. Color

Ground beef can change color because of temperature, bacteria, light, and oxygen exposure.

Healthy beef should be red because it has sufficient levels of oxymyoglobin (a pigment that forms when a protein reacts with oxygen). However, the interior can be slightly gray or brown because it hasn’t been exposed to oxygen. This is normal and not a reason for concern [1].

“You don’t have to worry if the outside of your beef has a different color than the inside. According to the USDA, ground beef appears bright red because of oxygen interacting the pigments in the meat. If the interior of your beef is grayish brown, it’s probably just because that part of the meat hasn’t been exposed to oxygen, and it’s safe to eat.”
- Mashed, YouTube Channel

If your raw ground beef has turned gray or brown on the outside, it means it’s starting to go bad. Also, if there are blue, gray, or green spots on your beef, it’s a sign mold is starting to form.

Read More: Why Does Meat Turn Brown?

2. Texture

You can also do a touch test to check for spoiled beef. Fresh ground beef should have a relatively firm consistency that’s slightly wet and breaks apart when squeezed.

If the beef has a sticky or slimy texture, it’s a sign it’s spoiled [2].

Tip: Wash your hands after touching raw meat, or you risk spreading bacteria to other surfaces and ending up with food poisoning.

3. Smell

A woman holding her nose because of smelly food

Before you eat ground beef, make sure to smell it to avoid food poisoning. The smell test applies to both raw and cooked ground beef.

If the beef is fresh, it’ll have a barely noticeable smell. But, if it’s spoiled, it’ll have a putrid odor and a sour scent, and you shouldn’t eat it.

Note: Some spoilage bacteria, for example, salmonella, can’t be smelled. If you notice changes in color but no funny scent, you should still throw away the beef.

4. Check the Use By Date

The final way to tell if beef is safe is to check the expiration date. The sell-by and expiration dates are guidelines for knowing when you should use the beef and if it’s fine to eat.

The sell-by date tells the seller how long the beef can be displayed for sale. You can eat refrigerated beef up to two days past the sell-by date.

The expiration date, also called “best before,” tells you when the meat will start to go bad. Beef will have the best taste before this date.

Generally, you shouldn’t eat beef after the expiration date unless it’s been frozen. You can eat frozen beef up to 4 months after the expiration date.

Related Articles:

How to Handle Ground Beef

A woman preparing ground beef by hand

Here’s how to handle and cook ground beef:

  • Purchasing tips — Buy ground beef that has a bright red color, not brown. Purplish-red color is also fine. Make sure the package is tightly sealed with no holes or tears, no excessive fluids, and it’s before the sell-by date.
  • Storing ground beef — Store ground beef in the fridge or freezer until you use it. If you plan to freeze the ground beef, you can divide and re-package it into portions.
  • Freezing ground beef — Keep ground beef in the original packaging in the freezer for up to two weeks. If you plan to keep it frozen for longer, wrap the meat in aluminum foil or a freezer bag to remove as much air as possible.
  • Refrigerating ground beef — Keep the beef on the lowest shelf in your fridge on a plate to catch juices and prevent cross-contamination. You shouldn’t keep the ground beef in the fridge for longer than two days.
  • Preparing ground beef — Wash hands with soap and water before and after touching ground beef, and keep the raw meat away from other foods. Wash any appliances you use while prepping.
  • Cooking ground beef —  Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature, and cook until the meat reaches 160 degrees.

Also Read: How to Tell if a Turkey Is Bad


How Can You Tell if Ground Beef is Spoiled?

You can tell ground beef is spoiled by using your senses. Smell the beef, touch it, and check the color.

What Does Spoiled Ground Beef Smell Like?

Spoiled ground beef smells tangy and has a sour, tangy odor.

Is it OK to Eat Gray Ground Beef?

Yes, it’s OK to eat gray ground beef if only the interior is gray. This means it hasn’t been exposed to oxygen. But if the exterior of ground beef is gray, you shouldn’t eat it.

How Long is Ground Beef Good in the Fridge?

Ground beef is good in the fridge for up to two days.


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About the author

Timothy Woods
CEO / Co-Founder
Timothy Woods holds a Kinesiology and Exercise Science degree from Jacksonville University and is CCC & GMU Certified. He's also the main man behind Carnivore Style. This food aficionado combines science and experience to spread the word about the carnivore lifestyle.
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