Is It Really Safe To Eat Ground Beef That Has Turned Gray?

You bought a package of beef from the store over the weekend but forgot about it. You notice it about a week later in the morning and take it out to see if it's still good. It looks fine on the outside, but what do its colors really say about the meat?

Ground beef is a popular and delicious meat option used on many dishes, such as burgers, tacos, and lasagna. Since there's no guarantee of how fresh the meat is from the store, you will have to check it yourself when it comes time to cook. It's not always easy to tell, but the consequences of guessing aren't worth the risk. If the beef has gone bad, bacteria has gotten to it, and it is beginning to decompose (via Medical News Today). Exposure to bacteria can begin with the implements used when the meat is first ground up and cause the meat to degrade faster. Two common types of bacteria can affect beef.

Spoilage bacteria can cause food to break down over time but will only make the food unappetizing (per U.S. Department of Agriculture). In contrast, pathogenic bacteria may not demonstrate signs that food is spoiled but can make you sick with food poisoning. Food poisoning symptoms can include diarrhea, vomiting, fever, cramps, and dehydration, reports Medical News Today. It's an unnecessary risk that can be avoided by using a few precise methods to check for signs of spoilage.

Ways to check for spoilage

Aside from the expiration date on the package, color is the first way to check for spoilage (per Medical News Today). Clear packages allow this to be done without exposure, while others may require you to open it. Still, this test requires less unpleasantness than smelling or tasting rotten meat. Fresh ground beef, when raw, should be red. This red color is due to the protein myoglobin reacting with oxygen. If the outside of the packaged beef is gray or brown, it has either begun to spoil or contains mold. Interestingly, the interior of fresh raw beef will be gray, too, as it hasn't come into contact with oxygen but will still be good to eat.

The texture of the beef is another sign of whether it has gone bad. Beef that is spoiled or contains high amounts of bacteria will be slimy and sticky, while fresh beef is somewhat firm and can break apart. If the beef does have a spoiled texture be sure to safely wash your hands after touching it.

The easiest way to tell if the beef is bad is through smell. Luckily this test can be done raw or cooked, so you can save yourself some time before cooking. Once the meat has gone bad, it will have a tangy odor, whereas fresh beef will have hardly any smell at all. While this may not be pleasant, it is an easy way to save yourself the trouble of getting ill.