Is Gray Ground Beef Safe to Eat?

No one wants to get sick from a package of ground beef! Does the color matter?

If you’re asking yourself a lot of questions about ground beef these days, you’re not alone. There have been a lot of scares recently, including a recent massive recall that affected more than 35,000 pounds of the stuff! Many of us are putting on our detective hats, closely inspecting the product from the label to the color and everything in between. Which brings us to wonder, is gray ground beef safe to eat? Let’s take a peek!

Why Ground Beef Turns Gray

Surprisingly enough, the color of ground beef isn’t enough to raise the alarm. Meat is full of a pigment called myoglobin, which is responsible for delivering iron and oxygen to muscles. When this pigment is exposed to air, it turns bright red. Because it looks so nice, most butchers use a plastic wrap that allows some oxygen to get through, giving the top layer of your ground beef a bright, red color.

The only problem? All that ground beef underneath the top layer has no access to oxygen, so it turns an unappealing color of gray. This will also happen to any beef you store in the freezer. It’s perfectly safe to eat, although you should be aware that the color indicates it has been in the package for a while.

What If My Ground Beef Smells?

My mother always said, “When in doubt, throw it out.” If your ground beef smells rotten or sour (or, it feels slimy when you touch it), chances are good it’s past its expiration date. That being said, most packaged ground beef has a slight odor, especially if it has been in there long enough to turn gray. But, that smell shouldn’t be strong enough to move your guts!

The biggest risk factor when it comes to ground beef is Salmonella and E. coli. These bacteria don’t affect the color of ground beef (nor the smell), so it’s super important to store ground beef properly in the refrigerator and cook it within a few days of purchasing it. The USDA also recommends cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of 160°F before serving it.

If the color really bothers you, try asking the butcher to grind a steak specifically for you. It’ll guarantee the freshness, and we think it tastes better, too! Once you’ve secured the beef, simple ground beef recipes will make the meat the star of the show.

Our Best Quick Ground Beef Recipes
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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.