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How To Tell If Ground Beef Is Bad

Ground beef is great to have on hand for so many meals like burgers, spaghetti, meatloaf and so much more. If you aren’t sure how to tell if ground beef is bad you are about to find out.

It is really simple. Using your senses will give you the answer to telling if ground beef is bad or not. Make sure that it doesn’t smell, isn’t slimy, and that it is nice and red.

ground beef on a plate showing that its bad

How to tell if ground beef is bad

Touching and smelling ground beef are good indicators of it being good or bad. Ground beef is pretty good at letting you know when it isn’t good anymore by its looks too.

Brownish or grey ground beef is a no-go.

First and foremost, always start by checking the sell-by or use-by date on the package. If it is still in date then go ahead and check these next few things to be sure it’s safe to eat.

Just because it is in date does not mean that it is good to eat.

80/20 ground beef on plate that has gone bad

Make sure to also follow the “When in doubt, throw it out” rule. It isn’t worth the risk of getting food poisoning.

Ground beef is more susceptible to bacteria than steak because when it goes through the grinding process it gets exposed to so much. This is why it is important to make sure that it is good before cooking or serving it.

If you are a ground beef fan check out my recipe on how to cook ground beef. If you are not a fan of ground beef and you prefer turkey learn how to tell if ground turkey is bad.

1. Smell the ground beef

Ground beef on a plate that has gone bad

Fresh ground beef that is still good won’t have much of a smell to it. However, if it has gone bad it will have a rancid smell.

A sour or tangy scent is a good indicator that it has spoiled and should be thrown out.

Even if ground beef looks and feels okay, doesn’t always mean that it is safe to use.

A rancid smell is a good enough sign on its own that bacteria has started growing in the beef and you could get sick.

This also applies to checking to see if cooked ground beef is still safe to eat or not. It should not have a tangy smell even after it has been cooked.

This is an important step after you have defrosted your ground beef.

2. Feel the ground beef

feeling bad ground beef

When you touch ground beef it will be a little wet but should not be slimy in the least. Slimy ground beef should be thrown out and never consumed.

Ground beef should be firm and break apart easily in your hands. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly so that you do not spread bacteria and contaminate other surfaces.

3. The look of the ground beef

ground beef that looks bad on a plate

You may see some brown in the middle of prepackaged ground beef which can be normal. Oxygen can not get to the middle of the package and it will start to turn brown.

You want your ground beef to be red in color. When you see brown or dull grey then it has spoiled and is no longer safe to cook or serve. It is key to be able to determine if meat has gone bad before you prepare it.

ground beef that looks fresh and good

If only a little brown, it should still be ok but always check all three steps to make a decision whether your ground beef is bad or not.

If you have ground beef on hand and you don’t think you will get a chance to cook it before it expires you can freeze it. Learn the steps on how to freeze ground beef properly to save money rather than waste the beef.

How to know when ground beef is done

Almost full cooked ground beef

You always want to make sure that ground beef is cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit internally.

When you are making patties sometimes the center could be a little pink still which is okay as long as you check it with a thermometer.

Typically you want to cook it until it is browned and you no longer see any pink at all. This is because the process that it goes through when it is ground allows for more introduction to bacteria.

Risk of Under Cooking ground Beef

Ground beef cooked but not fully cooked yet

Ground beef has been ground up. Because of this, ground beef is extremely susceptible to getting bacteria.

This is not the same as a steak where the bacteria are not capable of getting inside the beef.

That’s why again it is extremely important to fully cook ground beef to 160 degrees.

Frequently Asked Questions For Bad Ground Beef

Bad ground beef can have an ammonia smell to it. It will smell extremely off, it will not have a fresh beef smell to it.

You need to trust your natural ability to smell something and know and trust your body to tell you that it is not good or safe to eat.

No, spoiled meat is still bad after you cook it if it was bad before you cooked it. Cooking meat does not kill bad bacteria and could make you extremely sick if it was spoiled.

When in doubt it is better to just throw it out rather than risk it.

I think ground beef that is thawed should be good in the fridge within the first 3 days of purchase.

This also all depends on when it was processed. It is not a great idea to follow the date on a package, its better to follow the steps in this article to confirm if the meat is bad.


Recognizing the signs of spoiled ground beef is a key part of safe food preparation. Keep a close eye on changes in color, pay attention to any unusual smells, and check for changes in texture. When it comes to food safety, it’s better to be cautious; if you suspect your ground beef might be spoiled, it’s best to throw it out.

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