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How to Tell if Ground Beef Is Bad

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Ground beef is a terrific all-around ingredient for a ton of different dishes. You can freeze it to keep it good for a long time, but how do you know whether the ground beef you have or are buying is still good?

One of the easiest ways to tell if ground beef is bad is by smelling and visually inspecting the beef.

Ground beef should have a healthy pink or red color if it’s raw and still fresh. The fat marbling should depend on the fat content, but there should be some small specks of white in all ground beef. If it smells bad, is too dark (brown or gray), or it’s slimy, it’s probably bad, and you should toss it out.

Raw ground beef meat

Whether you’re making burgers or homemade chili, ground beef tastes great and is a reliable source of protein. But, of course, you never want to eat or buy bad meat, so here are some tips you can use to reduce your chances of purchasing something spoiled.

Let’s explore how to tell if ground beef is bad and how you can expect it to last.

Determining Whether Ground Beef Is Bad

Most people know what healthy ground beef looks like in the store. When you buy it, however, you only have a limited time to cook it before it starts turning bad. Unless you freeze it, you need to cook it within a few days; otherwise, it will turn sour, and you’ll risk getting sick.

Raw Ground Beef

Raw ground beef should be moist but not wet. There shouldn’t be any slime on the surface. In addition, there should be a manageable amount of liquid at the base of your packaging.

A healthy package of ground beef should also be red or pinkish red. When it oxidizes, ground beef turns brown or grayish.

While darker ground beef isn’t necessarily a sign it’s bad, you should be wary of buying darker ground beef in the grocery store because it probably means it’s been sitting on the shelf for longer than it should. It could also be a sign that it has been improperly stored or handled.

Cooked Ground Beef

Cooked ground beef, on the other hand, will mostly be gray, brown, or black, depending on how long you cook it. It should look like the outside of a grilled hamburger.

Cooked ground beef should smell like your childhood trips to your favorite fast-food joint. If the beef has a sour or rancid smell, toss it in the trash.

Also, spoiled cooked ground beef can develop fuzz around it if it’s been sitting in the refrigerator for too long. Only eat ground beef if you are absolutely sure that it is good and fit for consumption.

Tasty and appetizing hamburger cheeseburger

Knowing When Hamburger Is Bad

Sometimes you’ll buy pre-made burger patties in the grocery store. However, the meat will still be raw, so how do you know whether the beef is good or bad? Generally, the same rules apply to buying burger patties as with a package of plain ground beef.

Raw Patties

Raw burger patties should look a lot like raw ground beef, only shaped in circles and ready for the grill. The meat should be a rich red or pink color.

Depending on what type of raw patties you’re buying, seasoning or things like onions and garlic may also be added. Again, it should smell fresh, be moist but not wet, and be the right color.

Cooked Patties

Cooked burger patties are good as long as they still smell like something you’d want to eat. The way it looks once you cook it will vary based on how you cook it (on the grill, in the oven, on the stovetop, etc.)

If you leave a cooked burger patty in the fridge for too long, it will start to mold and smell gross.

How Long Does Ground Beef Last?

You should always check the sell-by and expiration dates whenever you buy or cook ground beef.

The sell-by date is the date grocery stores need to sell the product by before removing it from the shelves. It gives consumers a good margin of safety, knowing they still have time to cook the food without worrying it will turn rotten.

The expiration date is when the meat should be thrown out because it’s probably been sitting for too long on the shelf or wherever else it is kept. While food manufacturers and grocers are conservative with their expiration dates, you should never cook expired raw meat because it can make you sick.


Uncooked ground beef will last a few days in the fridge before you cook it. The longer you leave it in there, the more bacteria will grow on the meat and start to become slimy.

However, if you freeze the raw beef, it can last virtually forever as long as you keep it frozen. Raw beef will last for years in a good freezer.

Then, just take some out and let it thaw when you want to cook it. It’s much easier if you portion the raw beef into smaller bags before you freeze it. This makes getting as much as you need for dinner or the weekend barbeque easier without thawing the entire package.

Meat that has been thawed and then re-frozen is never the same as what it was before it was taken out of the freezer.

Raw burger meat cutlets with mince beef and herbs on a plate


Cooked ground beef will last much longer in the fridge than raw beef. If it’s plain ground beef, you have around a week to eat before it goes bad. However, ground beef in something like chili can last much longer.

You can also freeze cooked ground beef to keep it longer. However, thawing frozen cooked ground beef will alter its taste and texture.

How Long Does Hamburger Last?

Hamburger is essentially ground beef, so you can expect it to last as long as you would ground beef. What you season or cook the burger with can shorten its lifespan. For example, breadcrumbs in a burger patty can soak up juices and turn soggy, so it could spoil faster than a 100% beef patty.

Final Thoughts

Knowing what to buy and how to store raw and cooked ground beef will stop you from getting sick from spoiled food. If you ever question whether something you’re about to buy is bad, simply skip it and buy something else.