The Real Reason Ground Beef Expires So Quickly

If you feel like ground beef goes bad faster than other cuts of beef, well, that's because it does. The USDA recommends that ground beef be used within one to two days of purchase, while other cuts of beef have a three- to five-day window. The reason for this, according to Healthline, is that the grinding process exposes more of the meat's surface area to the air, giving the microorganisms that cause the meat to spoil a lot more space to latch on and grow.

Unfortunately for busy chefs, ground meat is subject to both spoilage bacteria (which are relatively safe but impact a food's taste and smell), and pathogenic bacteria (which can cause food poisoning). Regardless of which bacteria has taken hold, you never want to eat spoiled meat, so here's how you can know whether or not your ground beef is fresh.

How to know if your ground beef is expired

Start with a visual inspection. Your ground beef should be red on the outside. If the outside is turning gray or brown, that means it's beginning to head south and should be discarded. However, if there is some bluish-gray on the inside of the meat when you start to break it up in the pan, that does not mean the meat is rotten — it just hasn't been exposed to the air as much as the outside has. 

Another giveaway is the texture of the ground beef; it should be firm but crumbly. If the meat feels slimy or sticky as you remove it from its packaging, throw it out. But, of course, scent is possibly the easiest and quickest way to check for meat spoilage. Ground beef should smell almost like nothing according to Healthline, so if your meat smells strongly sour, tangy, or rotten, it's gone bad.

Luckily, you don't always have to use ground beef within two days of purchasing it. The best way to keep beef fresh for longer is to freeze it until you want to use it. Ground beef can be kept for up to four months in the freezer (according to the USDA), so transfer whatever you're not going to use to a zip-top bag and label it with the date in marker so you can be sure to use it before it spoils.