Can beef go off? (Possible signs)

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, “Can beef go off,’ and discuss how to tell if beef has gone off, and what happens if you eat bad beef.

Can beef go off?

Yes, beef can go bad. Beef is a type of meat that can spoil. When you buy beef at the store, it’s important to know how long you can keep it before it goes bad. If you don’t eat the beef within a certain amount of time after purchasing it, you won’t be able to use it again.

The microorganisms responsible for spoilage break down the fat, carbohydrate, and protein present in meat. This process leads to the emergence of undesirable flavors, the formation of slimy textures, and color changes, ultimately making the meat unappetizing and unfit for consumption. (1)

What are the causes of beef spoilage?

The deterioration of meat can be attributed to a range of factors encompassing physical, chemical, and biological agents.

These include microorganisms like bacteria, yeast, and mold, enzymatic activities within the meat, such as lipases and proteases, chemical reactions like browning and oxidation in the food, and physical alterations caused by freezing, drying, and the application of pressure.

While various factors contribute to meat spoilage, microorganisms stand out as the primary culprits responsible for compromising the quality of animal-origin foods. (1)

How to tell if beef has gone off?

The main signs of spoilage of meat products include alterations in texture, the production of slime or liquids, shifts in color, and the development of off-putting odors. These spoilage issues typically arise through various mechanisms.

Natural processes within meat, such as lipid oxidation or enzymatic reactions within muscle cells post-slaughter, can contribute to spoilage. Nevertheless, the primary driver of spoilage is the inevitable introduction of microorganisms (primarily bacteria) during the animal-to-meat processing stages.

After this, these microorganisms proliferate and engage in metabolic activities during storage. Each processing step can influence microbial contamination, while storage conditions play a role in shaping the composition of bacterial communities, thereby affecting the progression of microbial spoilage over time. (2)

How microorganisms can spoil meat?

Microbial spoilage refers to the biochemical alterations in meat driven by dominant microorganisms that constitute a notably higher proportion of the microbial community linked to the meat.

The makeup of the spoilage microflora is extensive and primarily influenced by factors such as the animals’ rearing environment and the subsequent handling and processing conditions of the meat.

These spoilage organisms are typically categorized into groups, including Gram-negative rods, Gram-positive spore formers, lactic acid bacteria (LAB), other Gram-positive bacteria, yeast, and molds.

Notably, yeast seldom contributes to meat degradation due to their incapability to produce extracellular proteases.  (1)

What is the shelf life of beef?

If left at room temperature for over two hours, it becomes vulnerable to microbial invasion. Because of its abundant nutrient content, high moisture levels, and neutral pH, fresh red meat becomes a potential hazard for consumption.

However, properly packaged fresh red meat stored in a refrigerated environment at 4 °C can maintain its quality for a desirable period of 3–5 days. If kept at a temperature of ‒18 °C, its shelf life can extend up to 12 months.

Packaging systems play a pivotal role in enhancing a product’s longevity. They achieve this by impeding the deteriorative impact of microorganisms and atmospheric oxygen (O2), while also safeguarding the product from its immediate surroundings. (3)

How to increase beef shelf life?

Packing and temperature storage play major roles in increasing beef shelf life. When meat is vacuum packaged (VP) and kept at −1 °C, its shelf life extends to approximately 100 days.

To prevent or slow down microbial proliferation in meat, various storage conditions have been employed, including vacuum packaging (VP), modified-atmosphere packaging (MAP), chilled temperatures, and the use of antimicrobial agents.

While meat stored in high-O2 MAP exhibits a shelf life of roughly one week, VP meat can maintain its quality for a period of three to 12 weeks when stored at 0 °C. However, it’s worth noting that extremely low temperatures, such as sub-freezing or freezing conditions, could lead to a decline in meat quality attributes over time. (4)

What happens if you eat bad beef?

 Consuming spoiled beef can lead to illness, with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. These symptoms arise due to the consumption of food tainted by either chemical substances or microorganisms and their toxins. (5)

Prominent pathogens of fresh meat items involve E. coli O157:H7 and related enteric microorganisms such as Salmonella. On the other hand, the Gram-positive bacterium L. monocytogenes raises concerns about ready-to-eat meat and poultry products.

In environments conducive to its growth, this pathogen poses a risk if it experiences re-contamination during the stages of slicing and packaging after undergoing processes to eliminate harmful microorganisms. (6)

Other FAQs about Beef that you may be interested in.

Can you freeze beef olives?

Can you do beef stroganoff in slow cooker?

Can you eat beef flank raw?


In this brief guide, we have addressed the question “Can beef go off,” and other questions about the subject, such as how to tell if beef has gone off, and what happens if you eat bad beef.

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