Is Brown Raw Beef Safe to Eat?

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Raw MeatWhen you want to prepare a special dinner for your family but find that you have brown raw beef in your freezer, it can be a bit confusing. You’ll probably wonder if it’s still edible or if it will taste right once cooked. In this article, we discuss what you need to know about brown raw beef and answer all the commonly asked questions regarding this peculiar transformation. 

What is Brown Raw Beef? 

Any beef muscle that hasn’t been exposed to oxygen (for example, items in vacuum packaging) will have a purplish or burgundy coloration. Once raw meat is exposed to air and stays for at least 15 minutes, myoglobin in the meat gets oxygen and will become a bright red color. After 5 days of refrigeration, the beef may take on a brown color — these color changes occur due to chemical changes from coming into contact with oxygen, known as oxidation. 

This chemical reaction is completely normal when meat is in refrigerator storage. However, beef that turns brown as a result of having it stored longer than it should be could become spoiled, develop an off-odor, or get a slimy texture. As such, brown meat with these features shouldn’t be cooked or eaten. 

Is it Safe to Eat Brown Raw Beef? 

If you do notice meat turning brown or gray on the outside, it’s not necessarily unsafe to eat but it may begin to show signs of spoilage. Food handlers shouldn’t accept food items that could be close to expiring — chances are once they reach the consumer, they will only find bad meat. While color can be used to determine the freshness of meat, it’s not the most reliable indicator.

Experts say that frozen meats can also change color from red to brownish-gray as a result of a lack of oxygen from being inside the freezer, but they should still be fine for consumption. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), it’s still safe to eat beef that has turned brown, but be sure to check for signs of spoilage such as a pungent smell. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that brown raw beef should be cooked within three to four days of purchase from the grocery store. 

How to Know if Beef is Spoiled 

To determine if your meat has gone bad, look for signs of spoilage such as:

  • A slimy surface film that can be seen or felt when touched.
  • It will have a yellowish or clear color and will make the surface of the meat shinier than it should be. 
  • It will have a sticky texture whenever you touch it with your fingers. 
  • A bad steak will usually have a strong odor that’s similar to rotten eggs. 
  • Brown patches won’t necessarily be a sign of spoilage, but the presence of white or green spots means that the steak will need to be immediately discarded.  
  • It could be extremely dry to the touch.
  • Spoiled beef will smell similar to spoiled milk, and will also change from a red color to a brown shade. 
  • Other times, rotten meat will have a distinct odor that will smell a lot like ammonia or eggs. 
  • While it’s not recommended to check for spoiled meat through taste, bad meat will always have a rancid taste, which will either be highly bitter or sour. 

Should You Cook Spoiled Meat? 

Anyone who eats brown raw beef could get sick, and much like any other kind of old or spoiled food, it could get contaminated with pathogenic bacteria and produce toxins that can lead to more severe illness. Spoilage bacteria and bacterial growth can be destroyed by using high temperatures, it should be safe to eat spoiled meat provided that it was baked or cooked well enough. Before eating cooked meat that’s spoiled, be sure that it reaches the proper internal temperature, and that you always check the interior of raw ground meat.

To ensure that the high temperatures fully penetrate it, leave it in the heat for a minimum of 10 minutes. However, a big food safety issue is that you don’t know the harmful bacteria that live in spoiled food, so it’s not recommended to eat any even if it’s cooked. Apart from that, rotten meat will have an unpleasant smell and may result in food poisoning. 

The amount of time it takes for food poisoning symptoms to show will vary with each individual, where illness will often start one to three days after consumption. Although, symptoms can start as early as 30 minutes after eating or as late as three weeks after eating food past its expiration date. Moreover, the length of the illness will depend on the kind of virus or bacteria behind the illness. 

Symptoms of food poisoning may include the following: 

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 

Apart from these conditions, you may also contract E.coli from undercooked or brown raw beef (especially burgers, meatballs, and mince) which are bacteria found inside the digestive system of various animals, including humans. While most kinds are harmless, some may cause serious illness, and can also be present in unpasteurized milk. 

How to Keep Meat Fresh

Fresh meat will have a light metallic or bloody smell that isn’t overpowering and you won’t need to have it too close for your nose to smell it. When raw red meat is at its freshest, it should have a bright red color until it’s exposed to oxygen, which is when it might turn brown or purple. If the meat in your refrigerator has foul odors or has a strange meat color, it’s best to throw it away rather than eat it and end up sick. 

After you refrigerate raw steaks for around five days, they could turn brown due to the oxygen content but it’s a normal change when given a long time. Below is a breakdown of storage time with cold food. 

Refrigerator – 40 °F or below:

  • Hamburgers and ground meats can be left for between 1 to 2 days
  • Fresh meat and steaks can be left inside for between 3 to 5 days
  • Chops and roasts can stay inside for between 3 to 5 days

Butcher’s meat, however, will have different storage times, as these are meant to stay for a longer time, which is outlined below. 

Freezer – 0˚F or below:

  • Steaks – 6 to 12 months
  • Roasts – 4 to 12 months
  • Steaks – 6 to 12 months
  • Chops – 4 to 6 months

As indicated by the list above, any cut of meat can be stored inside the fridge for up to 5 days, as long as it’s uncooked. However, there are exceptions — offal such as kidneys and liver, as well as ground meat should only be stored for one or two days. The refrigerator must always stay at or below 40°F, while the freezer should be kept at or below 0°F to ensure your meat keeps its integrity. 

Keeping Meat in the Fridge

Because meats can go bad even when put inside the fridge, lamb, veal, and beef, along with pork steaks, roasts, and chops must be kept inside the fridge between three to five days. Once cooked, poultry, seafood, and meat can be stored safely in the refrigerator between three to four days. However, when kept in vacuum packaging, raw meats can last up to 10 days before you need to cook or freeze them. 

Food items in the process of thawing inside the refrigerator at 40 °F or less will be safe to consume. After thawing, be sure to use your poultry, ground meats, and fish within the next two days, then use the lamb, beef, pork, and veal within the next three to five days. When properly stored, an open package of roast beef can last five to seven days inside the refrigerator. 

Any meat with a “sell-by” date should be frozen or cooked within three to five days of their purchase, which includes veal, pork, beef, and lamb. Fresh turkey, chicken, ground meat, and seafood should be frozen or cooked within one to two days of purchase. 

Eat Brown Beef with Caution 

Brown raw beef doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s spoiled; it can, however, indicate signs of spoilage, and extra caution should be exercised. Fresh ground beef and all meats should be stored inside the fridge quickly to ensure that they keep their integrity and are still safe for consumption. The color of the meat won’t always be the most accurate way to determine freshness, so be sure to check for other telltale signs of spoilage.