How to Know if Ground Beef Has Gone Bad

Ground beef is a flexible ingredient used to make burgers, taco meat, spaghetti sauce, and a variety of other dishes. It accounts for roughly 62% of all beef sold in the United States [1]. However, grinding exposes more of the meat’s surface-to-air, giving spoilage organisms and more room to attach to it. As a result, it spoils more quickly than other larger cuts of meat [2]. There are two types of bacteria that can affect the ground meat shelf life, such as sourdough and pathogenic bacteria.

Sourdough bacteria act as prebiotic and are not inherently harmful, but they cause food to lose quality and develop an unpleasant odour and taste [3]. Meanwhile, pathogenic bacteria are dangerous because they can cause food poisoning and increase the risks of many diseases [4]. Therefore, you should always discard ground beef that has gone bad to avoid disease-causing microorganisms. If you have beef in your fridge and aren’t sure if it’s still good to use, there are a few simple ways to know if it’s spoiled. Just keep in mind that rotten meat should never be eaten!

Check The Color

Ground beef’s colour can change because of a variety of factors, such as temperature, light, microbial growth, and oxygen exposure [5]. Fresh beef will be bright red, but it may have a few brown spots in the middle because ground beef is sourced from various parts of the cow. The longer you keep your ground beef, the greyer it will become. Because oxygen cannot reach the centre of prepackaged beef, it turns brown on the inside. If all of your ground beef is grey, rather than red or brown, it’s best to discard it. Fresh ground beef should be red because of oxymyoglobin, a pigment formed when myoglobin, a protein, reacts with oxygen [6]. Mold can also spoil cooked beef, so discard any leftovers if you notice discolored signs such as blue, grey, or green.

Smell the Ground Beef

Smelling your ground beef is the simplest and quickest way to determine whether it has spoiled. Fresh ground beef will have a slight odour, but bad beef will smell rotten. The smell changes because of the increased growth of spoilage bacteria, which can also affect the flavour [1]. Avoid eating it if it has a strong odour. Many bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses are not detectable by smell and can be found on fresh beef. To kill bacteria, always thoroughly cook the beef. Throw away the beef if you don’t feel comfortable eating it. Even if you don’t detect a strange odour but notice signs of spoilage in colour or texture, it’s still best to throw it away because pathogenic bacteria cannot be smelled.

Inspect the texture

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Squeeze the meat between your fingers to get a sense of its consistency. Fresh meat should easily break apart and separate into chunks in your fingers. If your ground meat is sticky or slimy, it has most likely gone bad. A sticky or slimy texture, whether cooked or raw, may, however, show spoilage bacteria [7]. You should toss it right away. Always wash your hands before and after dealing with raw beef to avoid spreading bacteria and contaminating surfaces.

Check Date on The Packaging

Checking the expiry date is usually the best way to determine whether your ground beef is fresh. A sell-by date shows how long a product can be displayed for sale at a retailer. Ground beef can be refrigerated and eaten safely for up to two days after this date. Meanwhile, the best before date shows when the product is likely to go bad. Before this date, the food will have the best taste and quality. It should not be eaten after its expiration date unless it has been frozen, in which case it can last up to 4 months [8]. When purchasing, read the product label. Check the calendar to see how many days have passed since you bought it, and discard it if it’s out of date.

Storing Ground Beef

As soon as you buy from the store, place your ground beef in the refrigerator. Raw meat should not be kept at room temperature for any longer than necessary. If the meat will be used soon, it can be refrigerated or frozen in its original packaging. Keep refrigerated at 40°F or lower and use within one or two days. Wrap in heavy-duty plastic wrap, aluminium foil, freezer paper, or freezer-safe plastic bags for longer freezer storage. It is best if used within 4 months of purchase.

Risks of Eating Bad Beef

People should take precautions if they suspect that ground beef is contaminated. Spoiled ground beef is dangerous to consume because it may contain pathogenic bacteria that cause food-borne diseases. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, stomach cramps, and bloody diarrhoea [9]. Disease-causing microorganisms grow quickly in room temperature and are more likely to occur in spoiled food. Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli are the most commonly found harmful bacteria in beef (STEC) [10], [11]. Symptoms may not appear for several days. Cook ground beef and use a meat thermometer to ensure that its internal temperature reaches 160°F (71°C) to destroy these bacteria and reduce your risk of food poisoning [12]. It’s best to avoid eating raw or spoiled ground beef.


Besides storing beef safely, it is critically important to be aware of potential signs of spoilage. A few simple techniques, such as observing changes in colour, odour, and texture, can cooperate with you in determining whether your ground beef has gone bad. Though the bacteria that cause meat to spoil are not harmful, other disease-causing microorganisms may proliferate when it spoils. Always cook meat and avoid eating spoiled or undercooked ground beef to reduce your risk of illness.

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