Find out if gray ground beef is OK to eat. Plus, find out how to tell if ground beef is bad with other indicators.
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If you've ever opened a package of ground beef only to find it gray in color, you may have automatically assumed the meat (and your dinner plans for the evening) were ruined. But before you toss the package, take a closer look—the ground beef may actually still be OK to eat. Read on to learn more about when it is and isn't safe to eat gray ground beef. Plus, learn about other factors that indicate if ground beef has gone bad.

Is Gray Ground Beef Safe to Eat?

Short answer: Yes and no. Long answer: Gray ground beef is OK to eat, but it depends on where the gray is within the meat. When fresh meat is cut, it's actually purplish in color. As the USDA explains, meat contains a pigment called oxymyoglobin, which, when exposed to oxygen, creates the familiar red color that is typically associated with a package of ground beef. If you open a package of ground beef and find the interior meat looks gray, it's likely because the meat hasn't been exposed to oxygen. In that case, the meat is still safe to eat, provided it doesn't have any other indicators of spoilage (read more on that below). However, if the exterior of the meat, or a majority of the package contents, has turned gray or brown, then it's a sign that the meat is beginning to spoil and should be tossed immediately.

Be sure to examine the location of the gray color closely—and if you're not certain and need more tips for how to tell if your ground beef is safe to eat, read on.

How to Tell If Ground Beef Is Bad

Aside from the color, there are two other factors that you can check to determine if a package of ground beef is still OK to eat.

Smell

If you open the package and are met with an unpleasant smell, that's a sign the meat is beginning to spoil. Fresh ground beef shouldn't have a noticeable smell, so any off-smelling odors are a cause for concern. When in doubt, it's best to err on the side of caution, especially if the meat is displaying another indication of spoilage.

Texture

Fresh ground beef should have a relatively firm consistency, and when squeezed, it should naturally break apart. If the ground beef has a slimy or sticky texture, it means it's going bad. As the USDA explains, a sticky texture could indicate the presence of spoilage bacteria. Ground beef with these textures should not be consumed and should be thrown away.

So, if your ground beef looks, smells and feels OK, then you're set to use it. But if the ground beef is gray on the exterior or has another indicator of spoilage, it's best to discard it.