Hint: It’s not bad yet. (Probably.)
You’re all set to make the meatloaf/hamburgers/meatballs you’ve been craving all day. You reach for the plastic-wrapped container of ground beef that’s been in the refrigerator for a few days, and—oh, no!—the meat has turned an unappealing shade of gray.
Don’t chuck that chuck…yet. Chances are, it is perfectly edible. According to the USDA, extremely fresh beef is actually purplish in color. That’s right—bright red, the color we associate with beef, isn’t an indicator of freshness. When the surface of the meat comes into contact with oxygen, it turns red. If the meat is not exposed to oxygen, it changes to a gray-brown hue. But that does not mean it is spoiled.
If your butcher sells ground beef to order, you may notice that when he or she scoops out a portion of meat, the ground beef toward the bottom of the container (that is not exposed to oxygen) looks gray, which understandably, may cause you to worry. Which is why most grocery stores package cut meat in oxygen-permeable plastic wrap so that oxygen can come in contact with the meat and preserve the red color.
The important thing to note is where the meat is gray. If it is a little gray on the inside, that’s probably fine. If the ground beef is gray on the inside and outside, chances are, it has spoiled. A simple sniff test will confirm that for you.
For best results, use ground beef within one to two days of purchase, or freeze it in its original packaging for up to four months. Ground beef that has been frozen may also turn gray, but it is still safe to eat if stored properly.