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How To Tell If Ground Beef Is Bad Using A Foolproof Method?

We all want to feel confident that the food we prepare for ourselves, our family and our friends is healthy, and that there is no danger of anyone falling ill due to something we have served them. When your guests get up the next day and end up having to see a doctor, you do not want to be the cause.

Ground beef is a totally versatile and relatively inexpensive meat. It lends itself to numerous dishes that are tasty, and quick to make.

Moreover, dishes made with ground beef are typically well-liked by children. No wonder so much is purchased every year!

My own kids love ground beef. When they smell it cooking, they will always ask me for some before I put in the other ingredients. 

I can’t think of any dish that I make with ground beef that my kids don’t like. Pasta sauce with ground beef, chili con carne, tacos, meatloaf, and of course, thick, juicy hamburgers.

Now, I have to admit, I am a thrifty sort of person. I will buy ground beef when it’s on sale and put it in the freezer where it’s ready for me to take out and thaw for dinner.

If I’m honest, there have been times when I have left the hamburger in the freezer longer than I should have.

When I have taken it out of the freezer and thawed it, I have been able to see that the coloring is quite brown throughout, and when I smelled it, it didn’t smell the way fresh ground beef does.

In these instances, I have been tempted to take a chance and cook it up, but then the reasonable side of my brain kicks in, thank goodness, and I remind myself of how ill everyone could become if I went ahead and cooked it up and served it. 

The number one rule with food that may be bad is, “If in doubt, throw it out.” This is very important with ground beef.

Don’t take a chance. Don’t try to have the argument with yourself that you spent good money on it, and you need to have dinner on the table in under an hour. It isn’t worth it!

Hopefully I have convinced you not to take a risk with your family’s health. Now let’s get to the meat of the matter. (Sorry, bad pun, but I had to do it)!

You’re going to use some common sense here. You’re going to use some other senses, too. Those other senses are smell, touch, and sight. Let’s break this up now and look at each one by itself.

1. The Sense Of Smell

The Sense Of Smell

When you open the package of ground beef, get your nose close to it and sniff. If you are greeted with a rancid, sort of tangy scent, put it back in the freezer. You are not cooking anything with that ground beef. 

Meat that smells good doesn’t have a very strong scent and it isn’t unpleasant to the nose. You might liken it faintly to iron.

A little tip: if after smelling the ground beef you are left with some doubt in your mind as to whether it is okay or not, ask one of your kids to smell it.

Getting that second opinion can be very helpful, and will likely convince you one way or the other.

I do this any time I am wavering on whether the ground beef is okay or if it’s bad, and my kids always make a judgment call immediately, and with confidence.

Don’t listen to that other voice that is reminding you about how hard you work to make the money that buys the groceries that feeds your family. Remember, it’s not worth it!

2. The Sense Of Touch

You’re probably wondering about this one. Like, how could ground beef that has gone bad actually feel different?! Well, it does. 

Along with the smell test, you can use your fingers to test if ground beef is ‘off’. Were your children ever into playing with slime? Well, think slime when you’re testing the health of your ground beef.

Ground beef that has gone bad will be a little slippery, filmy, sticky and tacky.

The opposite is true of ground beef that is totally fine. It will feel wet, but not slimy, and it will break apart easily in your hands.

RELATED: 15 Stunning Mexican Ground Beef Recipes

3. The Sense Of Sight

You might think that if the ground beef you bought is any color other than red, it isn’t good. It isn’t quite as simple as that.

We have to get a little sciency now. Meat has pigment called oxymyoglobin which, when oxygen gets at it, turns the meat bright red.

When you break apart the ground beef you bought, you may see some gray on the inside. Don’t freak out. It’s not time to run back to the store and demand a replacement package.

That grayish color on the inside is okay. That just means that the middle part of the packaged ground beef you bought did not come into contact with oxygen.

Now that you know it’s okay to use, you can proceed with your dinner plans. 

Gray, however, is not always okay. If you reach for the ground beef you purchased 5 or 6 days ago and set in your fridge, you might see a lot of gray. You might even see some brown and worse yet, green color on that ground beef.

If that is the case, run away, run away fast. Spoilage bacteria has gotten to that meat and you do not want anyone to eat it.

Applying all three of these tests, smell, feel and look, should provide you with lots of indicators to determine if your ground beef is good or if it has turned bad.

But what if you’re in a big hurry, you grab the ground beef from the fridge, toss it in the frying pan, and don’t bother looking at it very closely, touching it, or even smelling it?

The good thing is, that you can still save everyone’s stomach by noticing the scent that comes wafting up from that ground beef cooking in the skillet.

Very simply, it will not be a good smell. If this happens to you, turn off the stove, and regroup. You’re not having ground beef for dinner tonight.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Know When Ground Beef Has Been Cooked Long Enough?

Ground beef should reach an internal temperature of 160 F. That’s when it is done and is safe to eat. 

A way to easily tell if ground beef has been cooked long enough is when it has all browned. Stir it around when it is frying to ensure that all of the beef has browned and not just some of it.

Most recipes that call for ground beef also call for fried onions. I like to fry the ground beef first, remove it from the skillet, and then fry the onions separately. I find this makes it easier to be certain that all of the meat has been browned.

How Long Will Ground Beef Stay Good When It Is Kept In The Refrigerator?

First of all, make sure that you put the ground beef in the fridge as soon as you bring it home.

Do not leave it sitting out on the counter during the time it takes you to put everything else away in the cupboards. While the ground beef is sitting on the counter, it is attracting bacteria.

If you brought home a package of ground beef from the store, and you put it in the fridge right away, it should be good for one to two days.

How Long Will Ground Beef Stay Good When It Is Kept In The Freezer?

Keeping a package of ground beef in the freezer will allow you to keep it for about four months. Before you put it in the freezer, check to make sure there are no holes in the plastic wrap.

If there are, wrap the ground beef with more plastic.

How Do I Safely Thaw Frozen Ground Beef?

If you have put your package of ground beef in the freezer then you will need to do a little meal planning in order to have the time needed to thaw the ground beef safely.

Frozen meat should never be thawed on the counter. By the time you get home from work and you are ready to mix up some dinner, a lot of bacteria will have grown on that ground beef.

To thaw ground beef safely, remove it from the freezer, place it on a plate, and put it in the refrigerator the night before you want to use it. Twenty-four hours should be sufficient for thawing the ground beef completely.

If you are making a dish with ground beef that requires it to be cooked before it is mixed with other ingredients, you can cook the ground beef even if it has not thawed completely.

An example of this would be cooking the beef to add to tomato sauce to serve with pasta.

However, it is preferable to completely thaw the ground beef in the fridge as this will allow it to thaw evenly and cook more evenly.

If you think you won’t remember to take the ground beef out of the freezer the night before you want to use it (who hasn’t done that?!) set an alarm on your cell phone, or leave a note on the freezer door. 

If you are making something like meatloaf where you need to mix other ingredients into raw ground beef and then cook it after, you must give your ground beef enough time to thaw safely in the refrigerator.

Keep in mind that the danger zone for growing bacteria on meat is above 40 F. While your ground beef is in the fridge it will be below this temperature and therefore safe from bacteria growth.

How Should Bad Ground Beef Be Disposed Of?

Ground beef that has gone bad should be put in a plastic bag and thrown into the garbage. It should be set out to be picked up by the city garbage truck the next day if possible.

If your garbage day isn’t for a while, or if it’s summertime and the weather is hot, and you do not want the garbage to stink, put the bad meat in a sturdy bag and set it in the freezer until garbage day.

That way you can take it out in the morning, and add it to the rest of your garbage to be picked up. 

Even if the garbage has to sit for a while before the garbage truck arrives to pick it up, it’ll be okay as it will take a number of hours for the frozen ground beef to thaw.

Why Does It Take Steak Longer To Go Bad Than It Does Ground Beef?

The answer to this question lies in the meat’s name.

The beef, while it is being ground, comes into contact with oxygen, and we know from our brief science lesson earlier in the article, that when the pigment, oxymyoglobin, that is contained in ground beef, comes into contact with oxygen, a chemical reaction occurs which creates bacteria.

A steak does not go through any sort of grinding process, so it is not subjected to as much oxygen, and means that it can safely sit in your fridge or your freezer for a longer period of time than ground beef.

Do I Need To Worry About Only A Few Spots Of Gray Or Green On The Surface Of The Ground Beef?

Discoloration on the surface of ground beef means it has gone bad. While the inside of the ground beef may look grayish in color and be okay, any discoloration on the outside is bad news.

Gray, brown or green spots on the outside of the ground beef are mold.

Jess Smith

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