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How Can You Tell if a Steak is Bad or Spoiled?

There’s nothing like a great steak perfectly cooked. But sometimes we buy meat 1 or more days ahead of time. And occasionally, it may look darker or have an off smell when we go to cook it. So, how can you tell if a steak is spoiled?

A steak is spoiled if it has a slimy film on the surface of the steak, has an unpleasant odor, is turning greyish-green in color, has an unusual and off-putting shine to it, or if it’s a totally dry steak. But unless it had been previously frozen, also ensure the sell-by date has not passed.

But the above is just the tip of the iceberg.

Read on to learn more as we explore the issue in some depth. In this article, we’ll check out if a steak is bad if it has already turned brown.

We’ll look at what happens if you were to eat spoiled steak (something I won’t recommend). Then, we’ll check out how long you can keep raw steak in the fridge.

And whether it’s okay to eat steak after its use-by-date. We’ll call it a wrap by looking at whether vacuum-sealed meat goes bad in the freezer.

Let’s dive right in.

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Is a steak bad if it turns brown?

A steak is not necessarily bad because it turns brown. A brown steak is an indication that the steak has been exposed to oxygen and light. So it may have been improperly wrapped at the store or may be close to the sell-by date and not as fresh as it had been.

In a vacuum sealed container and stored where the possibility of exposure to oxygen is remote, it remains reddish.

The color change, when it is not vacuum-sealed, shows that a chemical reaction has occurred. It’s not necessarily a reflection of spoilage. What’s this chemical reaction? There are two pigments responsible for the color of meat: myoglobin and oxymyoglobin.

When meat is fresh and is not exposed to oxygen, it’s purple-red, this is because of myoglobin.

But when it’s been exposed to oxygen, myoglobin forms the second pigment, oxymyoglobin, and the meat assumes a vibrant cherry-red color.

If meat is kept in a plastic wrap which allows it to still come in contact with air, it will still retain a reddish hue.

But continued exposure to light and air and the interaction of myoglobin and oxymyoglobin leads to the formation of a third pigment, metmyoglobin. This is the pigment that turns meat into brown.

It’s not an indication that your steak’s gone bad.

What happens if you eat spoiled steak?

Eating a spoiled steak can induce symptoms of food poisoning, including nausea, vomiting, and, in rare cases, fever. At the very least, it can cause an upset stomach and indigestion.


“What if I cooked the steak really well?”

Cooking does help in destroying some toxins. Some are heat-resistant. So it’s best not to try and salvage spoiled steak by cooking it. Even cooking it well-done does not ensure you won’t get sick. It’s not worth toying with one’s health. Simply throw spoiled steak away.

In other words, you could easily become a victim of food poisoning.

Food poisoning simply refers to a condition where food has been contaminated by parasites, toxins, molds, allergens, viruses, or bacteria. Experts actually call it a foodborne illness.

Some of the bacteria in the gut sends a signal to the vomiting center in the brain.

This is why vomiting is usually what happens when we eat spoiled food. They can also affect the intestine and trigger gastrointestinal issues.

The key symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

However, really bad cases of food poisoning can also include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Body pain


These symptoms do not all appear at the same time. Depending on what triggered the poisoning, symptoms may appear about 30 minutes later, while it could be 30 days later in some cases.

Pregnant women, senior citizens, children, and those with a serious illness that has adversely impacted their immune systems are more at risk when they accidentally eat spoiled steak.

It’s best to consult a doctor as soon as possible if you think you ate a spoiled steak.

It’s not something one should treat lightly. The CDC estimates that 48 million people experience it every year, and 3,000 die from it.

Say you mistakenly bought and consumed spoiled steak, can you sue the grocery store?

This is the theme of a recent article where I explored what happens if a supermarket sells expired food. I spoke about whether it’s even illegal to sell expired food. And, I shared how much a store can be fined for selling expired food.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How long is raw steak good in the fridge? recommends that raw steak is stored for 3 to 5 days in the fridge and 6 to 12 months in the freezer. But for fresh steaks, also ensure it is fully cooked before the best-by date.


But how it’s packaged can also impact this.

Raw steak, if it is vacuum-sealed, can last for up to two weeks in the fridge. This is because it’s not in contact with oxygen. Just ensure it’s still within the best-by date and has a purple or deep red color.

The USDA recommends that raw steak should be cooked within 5 days. (source)

The implication is that raw steak is good in the fridge for 4 days, 5 days max. So, ideally, you want to cook your steak before or by the fifth day.

If this is not feasible, the best thing to do is to freeze them until you’re ready. But steak should not be stored in the freezer for more than 12 months. Freezing prevents the growth of bacteria.

Like most people, you’ve probably wondered what supermarkets do with spoiled food. 

You have, right? Well, you’re in luck because, in a recent article, I revealed exactly what they do. I shared how much food they throw away. I explained whether they donate food and if it’s okay for them to give away expired food.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is steak OK to eat after the use-by date?

A steak doesn’t automatically become bad after the use-by date, as that is an estimate. It is, however, best to eat the steak before or on the date, as that is when it is still the freshest and still retains more of its flavor and taste.

But it may still be safe 1-2 days after the date. You’ll need to use good judgment.

Of course, the date is not the only factor to consider. How the steak has been preserved is also a key factor. Even if it’s before the use-by date, if it has not been preserved properly, you have to be very careful, as it may have gone bad. If it has been well preserved, you can still use it a day or two afterward, but it may not taste as good.

But if you notice that it has assumed a greyish-green hue, has a slimy texture, or has an awful odor, it’s best to throw it away.

The key thing to keep in mind is that it’s better to be safe than sorry. And forget about rinsing it in salt or something like that.

Salt can’t get rid of the toxins I mentioned earlier.

Does vacuum-sealed meat go bad in the freezer?

Cooked meat that is vacuum-sealed can last between one to three years in the freezer. Raw pork, beef, and poultry can last up to three years vacuum-sealed in the freezer. Ground beef can last up to one year.

Aside from canning, vacuum-sealing food is the next best option to preserve meat.

It is a lot better than using aluminum foil, Tupperware, or plastic wrap. It prevents oxygen from gaining access to your meat. That way, mold, and bacteria cannot grow on them.

At the least, it slows down the rate at which they can grow. The best practice for freezing meat is to leave it wrapped in the package it came in from the store.

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Of course, the quality of the meat, to start with, also has an impact on frozen shelf life. So which grocery store has the best meat?

That’s what I looked at in a recent article. In it, I shared an interesting graphic showing where each type of steak comes from on the cow.

But I also explained what makes one type of steak better than another. And I revealed the stores where you can get the best steak.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How do you know if a dry-aged steak has gone bad?

Dry-aged beef has, by definition, been aged often between 45-90 days. So it’s not fresh the way other steaks and fresh meat are.

And since dry-aged beef goes through an aging process, not everything we’ve discussed above will apply. So what do you look for to spot a rotten steak of the dry-aged variety?

Oxidation is happening in the dry aging process.

And as we discussed above (negatively), that can create color changes in the steak. Now you shouldn’t see a slimy steak or a bad smell.

But the color of the meat will be much darker than a fresh steak. And the flavor will be gamey. But the act of aging causes a lot of the water content to go away, resulting in a much more tender steak.

Is a steak bad if it has freezer burn?

Freezer burn happens when something has been in your freezer for a long time and gets ice build-up on it. And I mean on the food, not the box or bag.

Too much freezer burn can definitely affect the quality of the cooked steak. But it in no way makes it unsafe to eat. So that frozen steak with some ice build-up won’t taste as good as it might have before. But it’s still a good steak.

What happens if you eat spoiled meat?

If you ignored the telltale signs of bad meat and cooked and ate that steak anyway, you are at risk of food-borne illness due to the harmful bacteria. Here are some of the signs and symptoms to look for:

  • Fever
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

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How long will the symptoms last?

Ultimately, it depends on your overall health and the strength of your immune system.

But it also may take 3-5 days for you to even get sick in the first place; and at least 24 hours. Most people who get so-called food poisoning immediately think to the last food they ate, and then go all Karen on wherever they got that food.

But in reality, it’s almost always something they ate 2-3 meals prior. The good news is those symptoms typically only last 24 hours.


In this article, we checked out if a steak is bad if it has already turned brown.

We also looked at what happens if you were to eat spoiled steak. Then, we checked out how long you can keep raw steak in the fridge. And whether it’s okay to eat steak after its use-by date.

We called it a wrap by looking at whether vacuum-sealed meat goes bad in the freezer.

Image by Robert Prax from Pixabay

stinky by Christopher Holden is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and merged with the 1st image with a text overlay added.

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Jeff Campbell