How to tell if your beef has expired, according to a food safety expert

  • Any ground meat should be used within one to two days of purchase, and cuts of beef within three to five days.
  • Beef that has gone bad will develop a slimy or sticky texture and smell bad or “off.”
  • If beef develops a grayish colour, that doesn’t necessarily mean it has gone bad.
  • Don’t taste meat to determine if it’s safe to eat or not. Call the USDA’s hotline.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Americans eat about 24.8 billion pounds of beef every year. It’s a staple of refrigerators and freezers across the world, but many people have a hard time determining if their meat has gone bad.

Argyris Magoulas, a specialist at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, spoke to INSIDER about when beef is safe to eat and when it should be thrown away.

Here are three ways to tell if your beef is expired.

It’s been in your refrigerator too long

The USDA recommends that any ground meat should be used within one to two days of purchase, and cuts of beef within three-to-five days.

“You really don’t want to wait until it smells or shows signs of spoilage to discard it,” Magoulas said. “You want to go by recommended storage times.”

There’s no limit to how long meat can be safely kept in the freezer, where it’s too cold for bacteria to develop. But meat that has been frozen for a long time tends to dry out. Magoulas recommends keeping steaks for no longer than 6 to 12 months for the best quality.

The texture and smell seem “off”

If the beef is sticky, slimy, tacky, or smells bad, toss it.

“If you leave ground beef in the refrigerator, eventually it will start to spoil after so many days,” Magoulas said. “Typically with meats, they will be sticky, slimy, and have off or foul odours.”

A grayish colour doesn’t necessarily mean that beef has gone bad, but it’s worth a second look

Beef can sometimes develop a brown colour due to metmyoglobin, a chemical reaction that occurs when the myoglobin in meat is exposed to oxygen. Freezing meat can also change its appearance. As long as the change in colour isn’t accompanied by other signs of spoilage, it should be fine.

“It’s not unusual to see that off colour,” Magoulas said. “The colour of meat sometimes changes. If it doesn’t smell or have stickiness and was bought by the ‘sell by’ date, it should be ok. If it’s smelling and sticky, then you don’t want it.”

If you’re still not sure, better safe than sorry

Concerned carnivores can get more detailed guidance from the USDA’s toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), available on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. There’s also a wealth of online resources available 24 hours a day.

Magoulas urges people with questions about their meat to make use of the USDA’s expertise instead of tasting something that you think might be spoiled and risking food poisoning.

“Never taste to determine safety,” he said. “Call us.”