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How to Tell If Your Ground Beef Has Gone Bad? 4 Simple Tips to Know

Ground beef is a common kitchen staple in many homes, especially to make burger, patties, cutlets etc. However, how can one be sure that your ground beef has gone bad? There are some clues to it, such as change in the smell, texture, color and its expiration date.

The common use of ground beef is to make burgers, sausage, meatballs, lasagna, tacos and savory pies. Ground beef accounts for around 62% of the total beef sold in America (1). As the name suggests, the meat is grounded and it causes more exposure to the air, so the spoilage organisms get more area to attach to it making it more prone to get bad sooner when compared to larger cuts, such as steak.

Both pathogenic and spoilage bacteria can affect the ground beef. Spoilage bacteria are not harmful as such; however, it causes decrease in the food quality and leads to bad taste and smell in the food (2). Pathogenic bacteria on the other hand can be dangerous, as they can cause food poisoning. If there has been spoilage in the beef, then it increases the chances of pathogenic bacteria being present in them. So, even though you won’t fall sick with spoilage bacteria, still you must always throw away spoiled ground beef to prevent consumption of disease-causing bacteria and other pathogens.

Some of the easy 4 ways or tips to find out if ground beef has gone bad are:

The Color of the Beef Is a Good Indication of Its State

There are many causes for the change in color in the ground beef, such as light, temperature, oxygen exposure and microbial growth (3, 4).

The color of raw and fresh ground beef should be red from the oxymyoglobin present in it, which is a pigment that gets formed when myoglobin (a protein) reacts with oxygen. The interior portion of the ground meat can be greyish brown in color as that part does not get exposed to oxygen; however, it doesn’t mean that it has spoiled.

However, if the color of the ground beef has become either gray or brown on the outside, then this is an indication that the meat is starting to spoil and needs to be thrown out. Other than this, cooked ground beef can also get spoiled from mold and any leftovers that have fuzzy grey, blue or green spots on them and should be discarded immediately.

The Smell of the Ground Beef

Doing a smell test is one of the fastest and easiest methods to determine if the beef has gone bad. This is applicable to both cooked as well as raw ground beef. Though smell of fresh ground beef is not that distinguishable; however, meat that has gone bad has a putrid and tangy odor and is no longer considered safe to eat.

The changes in the smell occur because of the increase in the growth of spoilage bacteria, such as Pseudomonas spp and Lactobacillus spp, which also affects its taste (5).

If there is not bad smell, but you can see other signs of spoilage in terms of texture and color, then it is advisable to throw the meat away, as pathogenic bacteria do not have any smell (6).

The Texture of the Ground Beef

The texture is also a dead giveaway as to the spoilage condition of the beef.  Conducting a touch test is a good method to check if it has gone bad. Fresh ground beef has a relatively firm consistency and texture and breaks apart upon pressure. Rotten ground beef has a slimy or sticky texture whether it is raw or cooked, this kind of texture means that the beef has gone bad and should be thrown (7). It is also important to thoroughly wash your hands after you have touched raw meat to prevent spreading bacteria to other surfaces.

Check the Expiration Date of the Ground Beef

Expiration and sell-by dates are other beneficial guidelines to determine if the ground beef is good or has become putrid. A sell-by date indicates the amount of time for which the product can be sold. Ground beef can be safely refrigerated and consumed for about 2 days after this date (6). On the hand, the expiration date which is also written as “best before” date indicates that by this date the ground beef is likely to start getting bad and it should be consumed before the expiration date, otherwise taste and quality of the beef will go bad before this date.

Ground beef should not be consumed after its expiration date unless it has been frozen, in which case it can last up to four months.

What are the Side Effects of Eating Rotten or Bad Beef?

It is extremely dangerous to eat spoiled ground beef, as it has pathogenic bacteria in it which is the root cause for many food-borne illnesses. Some of the symptoms of this are vomiting, fever, stomach cramps and diarrhea that can have blood in it. There is rapid growth of disease-causing microorganisms in the food that has been present at room temperature for a long time and more so in spoiled food. Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) are the most common harmful bacteria in ground beef (6). Outbreaks of infections linked with these bacteria occur frequently in America and the symptoms may take a while to appear. To kill these bacteria and to decrease the risk of food poisoning, one must thoroughly cook the ground beef and make use of a meat thermometer to check its internal temperature before deeming it cooked.

What are the Ways to Safely Handle Ground Beef?

In order to prevent food poisoning from ground beef, one needs to properly handle and store it. Some of the safety tips for this are:

  • Cut down on the time that ground beef is kept unrefrigerated. Make it your last purchase and go home directly and refrigerate it.
  • Always check the expiration date and color of the ground beef.
  • Choose a beef package in good condition without scratches or holes and also which is cool to touch.
  • Always keep the raw meat separate from other food items in your cart when you shop so to avoid cross-contamination or spreading of organisms to other food products.
  • Freeze or refrigerate the meat as soon you get home or within a couple of hours of purchasing it. The temperature of the fridge should be under 40°F (4°C).
  • Always keep the meat or ground beef on the lowest shelf of freezer. This will help in preventing the juices from leaking.
  • While defrosting, thaw the frozen beef in the fridge so as to maintain its cold temperature. Meat should not be kept at room temperature for more than a couple of hours.
  • Also make sure to refrigerate the leftovers within 2 hours of cooking them and consume them within 3 to 4 days.
  • Always thoroughly wash your hands after handling ground beef and also clean the utensils and kitchen counters.


Ground beef is a very popular food item, but also is highly perishable. Following some simple tips go a long way in making sure you eat fresh ground beef and are able to keep it fresh for a longer time. Some of the things that you can look to see if the beef has gone bad is changes in its smell, color and texture to determine whether your ground beef has gone bad.

Even though the bacteria that are responsible for the meat to spoil are not usually harmful, there can be other microorganisms, which can proliferate when it goes putrid and can cause serious health issues. To decrease the risk of illness or food poisoning, always thoroughly cook the meat and avoid consuming undercooked or spoiled ground beef.


Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 28, 2024

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