Can you eat spoiled meat?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you eat spoiled meat?” and discuss how to identify that it went bad?

Can you eat spoiled meat?

Yes, you can eat spoiled meat. However, you should not, as the consequences of eating spoiled meat could be disastrous. 

In the short term, if you eat spoiled meat, you can experience a foodborne illness, while in the long term, it may lead to inflammatory diseases. Meat can degrade due to chemical/ enzymatic reactions and due to the action of microorganisms.

Why should you not eat spoiled meat?

You should not eat spoiled meat because consuming spoiled meat or any spoiled food can lead to negative effects on health. 

The changes in meat quality may be caused by microorganisms and exogenous enzymes, endogenous enzymes of the muscle, non-enzymatic chemical reactions, such as oxidative rancidity, and also physical effects, such as burning by cold, loss of fluid by dripping and discoloration. Many bacteria can grow in meat and cause spoilage in the presence of air or in vacuum (4). 

If the spoilage has been caused by the action of microorganisms, the consumption of meat containing these microorganisms or their toxins can induce foodborne diseases.

However, even if the spoilage in meat has been caused by factors other than the action of microorganisms, spoiled meat contains chemical compounds generated throughout the spoilage, which affect health negatively, such as oxidized fats. These compounds act as free radicals in the body, increasing the risks of cancer and other degenerative diseases. 

How to identify spoiled meat?

To identify spoiled meat, you should be aware of possible signs of deterioration. Changes in the color, the texture or the generation of off-odors or gas – which is perceived by bloating of the packaging – are possible signs of spoilage.

Bacterial growth is often indicated by green or gray-green tints or patches. When lactic bacteria proliferate in the meat, they produce H2S from cysteine, generating an unpleasant odor and color. H2S oxidizes myoglobin to metmyoglobin, giving meat a green color (4).

Rotten meat may also be determined by the texture, and can be caused by the deterioration caused by psychrotrophic and psychrophilic. The best fresh meat is firm yet moist to the touch. Any signs of slime may be due to the growth of microorganisms (4).

Spoilage not occasioned by microorganisms can also occur. Lipid oxidation is one of the first degradative processes that occur during storage of fresh and cooked meat. 

In addition to adverse changes in the color, flavor and texture of meats, the autoxidation of unsaturated lipids and cholesterol results in the generation of potentially toxic compounds. The interactions of prooxidants with unsaturated fatty acids results in the generation of free radicals and the propagation of oxidative reactions (2), 

What are the risks of eating spoiled meat?

The risks of eating spoiled meat are of having symptoms related to foodborne illnesses in the short term and to have degenerative diseases in the long term. 

Free radicals including lipid radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, and reactive sulfur species generated during oxidative processes can increase oxidative stress in human bodies. 

The reactive oxygen species produced during cellular metabolism also have important roles in killing pathogens, cell signaling, apoptosis, gene expression and ion transportation. 

Lipid oxidation, protein hydrolysis and other chemical and enzymatic reactions cause meat deterioration, leading to the formation of off-flavors and off-odors, changes in the texture and in the color and the nutritional profile of the food. 

Excessive amounts of reactive oxygen species are directly or indirectly involved in various inflammatory diseases. By consuming a chemically degraded food, negative effects on health are possible in the long term, such as aging, cancer, Pakinson’s disease, atherosclerosis, heart failure, fatty liver and inflammatory diseases (7). 

In the short term, if you ingest a contaminated fish, you may experience a foodborne illness. Seafood-associated infections are caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Common bacteria related to fish contamination are Pseudomonas spp., Clostridium spp., Bacillus spp., Shigella spp. and Salmonella spp, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacteriaceae. 

The symptoms of a foodborne illness are fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and others.

Is it possible to cook spoiled meat? 

It is possible to cook spoiled meat, in the case of a mild spoilage of meat, when the growth of the microorganisms has not been advanced. Cooking to an adequate temperature destroys both spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms to make meat safe for consumption and to increase the shelf life (6).

Cooking has the potential to destroy a large number of microorganisms. Processing meat by cooking, drying, curing, adding preservatives and others extend the shelf life of meat (5).

However, it is not recommended to cook meat and consume meat when meat is severely spoiled. Heat is not a foolproof method of avoiding food illness. There will still be poisons in your food even after you cook these microorganisms and destroy them. Oxidation in cooked meat can occur faster than in uncooked meat (3). 

How to prevent meat from getting spoiled? 

To prevent meat from getting spoiled, it is recommended to properly store meat and to consume meat within its shelf life.

Traditional methods of meat preservation such as drying, smoking, brining, fermentation, refrigeration and canning have been replaced by new preservation techniques such as chemical, biopreservative and nonthermal techniques. 

Current meat preservation methods are broadly categorized into three methods (a) controlling temperature (b) controlling water activity (c) use of chemical or biopreservatives. A combination of these preservation techniques can be used to diminish the process of spoilage (5).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends storing meat and meat products at 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the refrigerator. This helps to keep food fresh longer. However, the length of time meat may be stored at this temperature varies according to the product. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),

  • Refrigerated poultry keeps for two days.
  • You may keep ground meat, such as sausages, in the refrigerator for up to two days.
  • Store hot dogs in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
  • Bacon keeps for seven days in the refrigerator.
  • Steaks keep for up to five days in the refrigerator.
  • You may store offal (organ meat) in your refrigerator for up to 5 days after purchasing it.
  • If meat is kept at 40 degrees F for an extended period of time, it will decompose.

Can you freeze meat to extend its shelf life?

Yes, you can freeze meat to extend the shelf life of meat. According to the USDA, food that has been frozen to temperatures of 0°F or below will be prevented from the growth of microorganisms. Freezing does not destroy microorganisms, it refrains them from multiplying. Some parasites, however, may be destroyed by freezing food.

Even at a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit, food may not be preserved forever according to the USDA. Meat will degrade if it is stored in the freezer for an extended period of time. The FDA advises staying between these ranges:

  • For a period of up to 12 months, poultry may be stored frozen.
  • It’s possible to freeze ground beef for up to four months.
  • For up to two months, frozen hot dogs may be kept.
  • It is possible to freeze the bacon for up to a month before using it.
  • Steaks may be stored in the freezer for up to a year.
  • Organ meat may be stored in the freezer for up to four months before consumption.

Other FAQs about Meat that you may be interested in.

Can you eat meat on Christmas eve?

Can you boil frozen meat?

Can you eat cooked meat left out overnight?


In this article, we answered the question “Can you eat spoiled meat?” and we discussed how to identify that it went bad?


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