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How Do I Know When Meat is Bad?

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Graphic with cow, chicken, and pig

How Do I Know When Meat is Bad?

As a friend looked over the frozen chicken wings at the grocery store, he asked, “should I buy the discounted wings?”

If the product looks wholesome, is going to be used or frozen quickly, and doesn’t show signs of spoilage, the answer is yes!

Why does beef turn gray/brown?

Beef in vacuum packaging is burgundy or purplish in color. After 15 minutes of exposure to the air, oxygen reacts with the meat and it turns bright, cherry red. The reaction will continue and after about 5 days the meat will turn gray/brown. This is a normal change during refrigerator storage.[1] While not an indicator of spoilage on its own, it does indicate reduced quality and should be used or frozen quickly.

What are the signs of spoilage?

According to Argyris Magoulas, Food Safety Education Staff at the USDA “Signs of food spoilage may include an appearance different from the food in its fresh form, such as a change in color, a change in texture, an unpleasant odor, or an undesirable taste.”[2] If you follow good food safety guidelines, it is generally safe to eat meat indefinitely, but the quality is product will be reduced.

How do I safely store meat?

“While product dating is not generally required by federal regulations, many stores and processors may voluntarily date packages of fresh or uncooked meat and poultry products. Use or freeze beef, veal, pork, and lamb products with a "Sell-By" date within 3 to 5 days of purchase. Fresh chicken, turkey, ground meat, and ground poultry should be cooked or frozen within 1 to 2 days of purchase.”[3]

Frozen beef and chicken will be safe indefinitely.[4]

Cooked chicken will taste best if kept frozen up to 4 months.[5]

If you suspect your meat has spoiled, try to find another use or visit the Food Scap Drop Off listing from Hamilton County R3Source to find local composters who will take meat. The best advice- only buy what you know you will eat this week. Wasted Food Stops With Us!

[1] (United States Department of Agriculture, 2019) [2] (Magoulas, 2017) [3] (United States Department of Agriculture, 2019) [4] (United States Department of Agriculture, 2019) [5] (United States Department of Agriculture, 2019)

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