When Should You Reject a Delivery of Meat? (6 Critical Tips)

Jayden Lawson
Published by Jayden Lawson
Last Updated On: November 6, 2023

If you aren't sure about the quality of the meat delivered to you, it is always best to err on the side of caution and then reject the delivery.

However, it is not always easy to tell if meat has gone bad. Because I use a meat delivery service every month, I know it is essential to be aware of the signs of bad delivery. Here are some tips on how to tell if you should reject a shipment.

Quick Summary

  • Rejecting a meat delivery should be considered if the meat is spoiled, out of temperature, or mishandled.
  • Key factors to assess include the meat's temperature, packaging condition, smell, appearance, and texture.
  • Never taste test meat that is suspected to be bad; it may contain harmful bacteria.

6 Factors to Help You Decide

Here’s what to pay attention to the next time you receive a delivery package.

1. Temperature

A person holding a box with a temperature graphic

The most important factor in determining if meat has gone bad is temperature. If the temperature is too high, the meat will start to spoil. This is true for raw fish, lamb, fresh poultry, beef, and other carnivore-quality food.

This is because bacteria multiply rapidly in warmer temperatures, causing a food safety problem where the meat spoils and releases toxins that can make you sick.

The "danger zone" for meat is between 40°F and 140°F [1]. Below 40°F, bacteria will not grow as quickly. Above 140°F, the heat will start to kill the bacteria. Thus, cold TCS food should be delivered below 41°F and hot TCS food above 135°F.

If you are unsure about the meat's temperature, you can use a proper meat thermometer to check. Simply insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, usually the center.

Make sure that the internal temperature reading is at or below 40°F for the food item.

Reject fresh meat if it was stored above 40°F. The meat has likely been sitting in warm temperatures for too long and food safety is compromised.

2. Packaging

Another factor to consider is food packaging. A broken seal or missing label may mean it has been mishandled and is more likely to be spoiled.

You want the packaging intact and undamaged. There shouldn't be any tears or holes in the packaging, as this could allow bacteria to contaminate the meat and cause food poisoning.

Also, if you see dirty packaging or signs of pest damage, you should reject that meat immediately.

The packaging should be labeled with the name and address of the supplier. It should also have the date of packaging. This will help you identify the meat's source and determine if it is fresh.

Food packaging with fluid stains or frozen fluid on the bottom indicates that the meat may have been thawed and then refrozen. This may make the food unsafe to eat, as bacteria can proliferate during thawing.

If you are uncomfortable once you examine food packaging, it is best to reject the delivery.

3. Smell

You can also assess food quality by smell. Fresh beef, pork, or chicken should have a minimal scent.

However, if the meat has gone bad, it will have a strong, unusual odor. The smell may be similar to that of rotting flesh and will be very pungent.

Other smells associated with rotten meat are fishy odors, sour smells, and an ammonia smell. If you notice an abnormal smell, you should reject the meat.

4. Appearance

A person holding very dark meat

Another way to tell if meat has gone wrong is by looking at its appearance. Good meat should be pink or red, and the fat should be white or pale yellow.

On the other hand, raw meat that has gone bad will have a dark or brown color, and the fat will be greenish-yellow. The meat may also have patches of mold or other local discolorations.

Moist foods shouldn’t be delivered dry or in dirty packaging. When receiving fresh meat or other packaged food, you should see no pest damage.

Additionally, if your meat arrives vacuum-packed, you should check to ensure the seal remains intact. If the vacuum pack shows signs of leaking or bloated with gas, this is a serious indication that food safety is compromised.

5. Texture

Meat should be firm to the touch and should not be slimy or dry. When you press on it, there should be a certain amount of elasticity and resilience.

Meat that has gone bad will be mushy and have lost its elasticity. The texture can be soft and squishy, and the meat may even break apart easily. Tacky, sticky, or moist foods should be avoided.

Visually inspect the meat, and if it has the wrong consistency, you should reject food service delivery.

"Meat, poultry, and egg products are particularly vulnerable to microbiological hazards because their moisture, pH levels, and high protein content provide ideal environments for the growth of bacteria."
- United States Department of Agriculture

6. Taste

A chef cutting up steak in a kitchen

One thing you should never do when checking if meat has gone bad is to taste it. Even if the meat looks and smells fine, it may still be contaminated with bacteria that can make you sick.

This is because two types of bacteria can cause foodborne illness: pathogenic and spoilage [2]. Pathogenic bacteria are the ones that actually make you sick.

Spoilage bacteria may not make you ill but can cause the meat to taste bad.

The pathogenic bacteria may be undetectable by smell or appearance, but they can still make you very sick. Therefore, it is best to never taste test meat that you think may have gone bad.

Related Articles:


What Is the Receiving Temperature of Frozen Food?

The receiving temperature of frozen food is 0°F (-18°C). It should be frozen solid with no evidence of contamination.

What Is the Safest Way to Thaw Meat?

The safest way to thaw meat is in the refrigerator. This method takes longer than at air temperature, but it ensures that fresh chicken or beef stays at a safe temperature throughout the entire process.

What Is the Receiving Temperature of Fresh Meat?

The receiving temperature of fresh meat is 40°F (4°C). Reject items where the surface temperature of the meat is outside the recommended range.

Meat Delivery Rejection

Your health is of the highest importance, so if you have any concerns about the quality of the meat, the food should be rejected.

This is especially important if the meat is not at the proper temperature or has passed its expiration date. You should also refuse the delivery if the meat looks, feels, or smells bad.

I use ButcherBox as my food delivery service and have always been impressed with their packaging and delivery quality. Their custom subscription boxes arrive on time and the meat is still perfectly preserved.


  1. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/refrigeration
  2. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/food_spoilage_and_food_pathogens_whats_the_difference
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About the author

Jayden Lawson
Jayden is a CPW certified lifestyle writer, father of two, and a self-taught culinary artist with a passion for Southern cooking. His readers enjoy the expert interviews, success stories, and tips he shares about anything delicious, meaty, and thriving.
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